Sunday, June 30, 2013

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

The other day I was reading an article which made an amazing claim. Apparently scientists have discovered that our brains are configured in such a way that we are born with a natural disposition to find, follow and admire people which display the characteristics of a leader. Scientists believe this desire comes from our need to be part of a group and the fact that we are social creatures.  

What I found interesting about this article is that it took scientists more than 2000 years to discover what St Augustine of Hypo knew back in the fourth century. Back then St Augustine declared that God created us for himself and that our hearts will never find rest until we direct our desires towards God and rest in Him.

 The problem is that since we are not born with the knowledge of God in our minds, we spend our lives trying to satisfy this desire, trying to fulfill this need to follow and give our adoration to something bigger than ourselves.  Since we don’t know how to direct this desire, most of the time we end up following the wrong thing. It is our nature to be attracted to those people who represent hope and greatness. We even have a name for this, we call this behavior “Hero Worship”.

In today’s reading we see this desire in action.  Jesus encounters three different people who express their willingness to follow him. Each time Jesus gives a surprising, if not confusing, answer to their requests, but each answer also shows that Jesus is unlike any hero or personality we will ever meet.

The first man offers to follow Jesus were ever he would go, Jesus in reply says “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. To understand His words we need to keep in mind that Jesus lived in a time in which people were very close to nature. For His listeners, foxes and birds were examples of creatures who prepare nests, a place they can call Home. The Lord is telling this man his followers have nothing, and that to follow  Jesus means the embracement of  poverty.

 The second man tells The Lord he will like to bury his dead father, before accepting his invitation. Jesus answers “Let the dead bury their dead; but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”… On Jesus times the dead was considered unclean, and touching them would make you impure. Jesus is telling that to proclaim the Gospel one must be kept clean and pure, one must embrace spiritual and physical chastity.

The third man wants to follow Jesus but will like time to say goodbye to his family, again Jesus answer “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”…To be a follower of Jesus one must be willing to abandon everything, even their family, and once one has started walking with the Lord, one must never look back, one must live in complete obedience to his plans.

Poverty, chastity and obedience this is what Jesus demands of His followers.

You might be thinking that these demands are impossible to meet for us, people of the 21st century; but the fact is, we all know people who live their lives by these simple rules. Poverty, chastity and obedience are the three promises every priest, nun and religious brother make when they profess their solemn vows.  They are the visible sign of God’s kingdom on earth, the example for us to follow.

Like I said, Jesus is unlike anyone we will ever meet. No celebrity will ever demand these things from their fans, on the contrary, many celebrities today encourage a life of riches and excess; and many of their followers live to imitate this life; a type of life which in itself is a miss-use of our God given desire to follow greatness.

Jesus greatness and the greatness of his followers contradict everything we have learned about success and about how to reach complete happiness. For his followers success and happiness reside in the complete willingness to self sacrifice; to live lives dedicated to the service of the kingdom of God, staying pure, and chaste and obedient.

Before I finish today I would like to give the young people here a challenge. The future belongs to you, and it is a future in which most likely the religious freedom we enjoy today will be severely, limited. Under these conditions, a life lived on poverty, chastity and obedience will be the truest, highest and most difficult form of live you can imagine. Are you tuff enough to take this challenge? If you are tired of following, heroes made out of clay, that only care about themselves, Isn’t it time you try to follow a new kind of Hero? The Lord is waiting for your answer. I assure you, following Him will be un-like anything you have ever tried before.