Sometimes I envy St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose road to heaven came to a conclusion after only 24 years, nine of which she spent as a Carmelite nun. Others who shared that type of blessing include St. Agnes, who was martyred at the age of 13, and Aloysius Gonzaga, the Jesuit student who died at 23 on the very day he predicted he would.
While they crammed a great deal into their brief lives and each suffered serious illness or persecution, they still seem to have gotten the break of not having to go through the long days and nights that make up midlife crises or the gradual, implacable diminishment of aging. Their journey to sanctity was short if not sweet.
|Twelfth Sunday in
|Zechariah 12:10, 13:1
I was reminded of them as I read today's Gospel and thought about the long road Jesus' disciples had to walk. It may have been easy for Peter to proclaim, "You are the Christ of God." It was an A-plus answer when taken by itself, but Jesus knew that Peter and the others who so easily added their "Amen" had no clue about what it really meant.
Jesus gave them a harsh and necessary lesson. He explained what being God's anointed one really meant -- for him and for them.
Here, for the first of three times recorded in the Gospels, Jesus attempted to get his disciples to understand that he was going to look like a failure, that his was the polar opposite of a "gospel of prosperity." Trying to impress us with the intensity of Jesus' frustration with their facile faith, Luke tells us that he "rebuked" them for calling him the Christ. He absolutely refused to accept theologizing that underestimated the cost of his mission or their discipleship.
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We can imagine how Jesus looked directly at his ever-so-sincere but naive devotees as he tried to shock every hint of complacency right out of them. He explained in no uncertain terms that he was on a road of suffering, rejection and death, a journey that would be redeemed "on the third day," a phrase that meant "in God's good time."
In sum: The suffering was immanent and would be ongoing. The Resurrection was the object of his hope. Then he drove home the point that being his disciple meant sharing that road with him.
Reading this Gospel, we might interpret it as a prediction of what we celebrate in the three days of our Easter Triduum. But Luke is making a different point. Luke quotes Jesus as saying that disciples must take up their cross "daily." Just as Jesus' experience of rejection and the suffering it entailed was ongoing, so too the self-giving that expressed their discipleship would have to be as persistent as their need for daily bread.
What are we to take from today's Scriptures? The central message of the first reading is that grace alone allows us to recognize our sinfulness and accept God's gracious, transforming mercy. The Gospel hits us between the eyes with the message that being a Christian is a costly business. The following of Christ is an all-or-nothing commitment.
Paul's letter to the Galatians helps us put our Christian commitment in a concrete and surprisingly contemporary context.
First, Paul says that those who are baptized into Christ have "put on Christ," which means that discipleship is the most basic fact of their identity. Disciples are called to realize that no other designation or distinction, no background, ability or status matters one whit in the light of our relationship to Christ.
Following directly from that is the fact that all who identify themselves as clothed in Christ embrace their unqualified equality and solidarity with the rest of the baptized. No race or nationality, gender or social status trumps our essential equality in Christ. Belief in such equality must translate into the mission to make it effectively true in church and society -- beginning with justice for people of color, immigrants and women.
This brings us right back to the Gospel message of the cross. Anyone who takes up the mission of embracing and promoting the radical equality of the children of God will encounter resistance and persecution.
Those who have entered the struggle to implement these Gospel values are on the road of living the challenge outlined in today's readings. They know the cost of daily discipleship. They can continue on because faith nurtures their dream that all can live as children of a merciful God.
As they gratefully receive the Spirit God pours out, they are encouraged daily to make the dream come true through as many long years as God gives them. Grace and the dream are their daily bread and cross.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet and a historical theologian currently writing the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States.]