He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)*_
Last Sunday, Jesus instructed us never to fear people who can only kill the body but to fear God, who alone can destroy both soul and body in hell. Like Jeremiah, people would always try to discourage us from proclaiming the Gospel, but we should not allow fear to prevent us from responding to our divine call. Jesus warns that if we are ashamed of Him on earth, He will be ashamed of us in Heaven.
While fear can be a stumbling block in our proclamation of the Gospel, attachment to family members (love for material possessions and earthly riches) can also be a stumbling block in our mission. Hence in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells us: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)
Is Jesus’ instruction a contraction of the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves? What exactly does Jesus mean by taking up our cross and coming after him? What do we even stand to gain from denying ourselves to follow Jesus? These are some of the questions we shall try to answer as we consider today’s lessons:
*1. Seek First God’s Kingdom*
The summary of last Sunday’s and this Sunday’s Gospel passages are: Seek God’s kingdom first. To be missionaries at all, we must put God first. If God does not come first, our attempt to evangelise would be fruitless as we would find ourselves compromising to fulfil other obligations. When Jesus asked a young man to follow him, and he gave the excuse of going to bury his father, Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)
Jesus is not against us helping our family members or showing love and concern to our children. Instead, Jesus wants us to know that when it comes to evangelisation, God must come first. Another disciple came to Jesus saying: “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus told him, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62).
Are your family members making it difficult for you to serve God? Do you find yourself at a crossroads as to whether to do what God has commanded or disobey God in the name of family tradition? I once learnt of a lady whose mother forced her into prostitution to provide for the family. These are some examples of what Jesus refers to when he says that whoever loves his father or mother more than Him is not worthy of Him.
Just as the devil tried to prevent discourage Jesus from carrying the cross by speaking through Peter, the truth is that our family members could become obstacles on our Christian journey. (Cf. Matthew 16:23). They could even become the cross we must bear for God’s kingdom’s sake. We must be ready to make whatever sacrifice or let go of whatever is demanded of us if we truly desire to worship God.
Seeking first God’s kingdom could mean ensuring that the church (the house of God) is kept clean and sparkling all the time. It may also entail providing for the needs of those who have dedicated themselves to the work of God. In today’s first reading, we read of the woman of Shunem who provided food for Elisha on his journeys and went as far as building him a small house so Elisha could rest whenever he came around.
*2. Seeking God First Always Requires a Sacrifice*
Seeking God’s kingdom first entails dying to sin and walking in righteousness. This is what St. Paul teaches us in our second reading today. “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11). Whenever we are faced with temptation, we are made to choose between doing what God desires and doing what the devil desires, a choice between obeying God and satisfying our bodily craving for pleasure. Of course, this is never an easy choice to make.
For instance, Jesus was very hungry, but when asked to change stones to bread, Jesus said: “Man shall not live by bread only but every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Are you addicted to the sin of the flesh? Know this: no matter how many times you have fallen before, your will is yours, and no force on earth and none in hell can take away your choice. You have what it takes to choose God, to do what is right, and let go of that ungodly desire.
In all the temptations, Jesus always sought God first. This is why He refused to put God to the test by jumping down from the pinnacle of the temple. Again, Jesus placed God above the craving for wealth and prosperity by refusing to bow to Satan in exchange for all the riches in the world. (Cf. Matthew 4:1-11). This woman sacrificed a lot in building a house for Elisha; that money would have been used for something else, but she felt God’s own was more important. Seeking first God’s kingdom always requires sacrifice. It is never the most convenient option for us – it is a cross we carry as we attempt to follow God.
Jesus says we are not worthy of following Him unless we are willing to carry our crosses and deny ourselves pleasures, cravings, and even material comforts. If the only reason we are serving God is to take from God, if there is nothing we are sacrificing on our part, we will soon fall away when these goodies we seek are not forthcoming.
*3. There is always a Reward for Seeking God First*
As much as seeking God first comes at a cost, it never goes unrewarded. As the Psalmist puts it: “He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6). Whatever good you do for the sake of God, even if it is as little as giving someone a cup of water to drink, there is a reward that awaits you.
Making a sacrifice to end a nasty habit (addiction) would initially seem like suicide, but in the long run, you realise that you have freed yourself from bondage; that your life is now happier and healthier. This is what Jesus means when He says: “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39). The devil might be telling you that you would die if you stop watching pornography or end a sinful relationship. He might try to convince you that you would lose money, your job or the admiration of others. Don’t listen to the devil. Trust Jesus. There is a more excellent life awaiting you.
Jesus also speaks of a prophet’s reward, a righteous man’s reward and a little child’s reward. This takes us to our first reading. In appreciation for the house she built, Elisha thought of how to say “thank you”, and when Gehazi told him she had no child, Elisha assured the woman that she would embrace a son. Dear friends, the reward we get for serving God is always greater than whatever sacrifices we make.
The story of the woman of Shumen resembles that of Abraham. Although God promised him a child, this promise became a reality after Abraham played host to three Angels sent by God. Abraham only saw them passing when he ran from his tent to meet them. He told them they must come into his house and freshen up before continuing their journey. Abraham hurriedly prepared a meal for them and served them. The Angels were so delighted with Abraham’s show of hospitality that they said: “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:10)
Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that the woman of Shunem did not build the house for Elisha with the hope that she would have a child by so doing. She made the house out of a genuine concern for the prophet’s welfare. Giving to God is not a business. God is not a money doubler. He blesses us as a Father whether or not we give. God can never be bribed.
*Conclusion: Give Thanks to God Always.*
Above all, as our Psalmist today sings, we must sing forever of God’s mercies. That is, we must never stop singing praises to God. The more we sing to God, the more we realise He has done so much for us and that our troubles are very light for Him. Even our constant singing reminds us to seek God first in all we do. “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33).
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, I surrender my whole being into your hands. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Bible Study: 2 Kings 4:8-11,13-16, Ps. 89:2-3,16-19, Romans 6:3-4,8-11, Matthew 10:37-42).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu