HOW ARE WE THEN TO LIVE?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, Thirteenth Week of the Year, June 27, 2016
Amos 2:6-10, 13-16, Psalm 49, Matthew 8:18-22
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
"Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head'" (Matthew 8:18-20).
Today we see Jesus' radical call to discipleship. We were in our sins, without hope, convicted of sin in our own hearts by our own conscience and by God's moral law (the Ten Commandments), and when we cried out to Christ in faith and sorrowful repentance, God declared us righteous, just, and holy, with all our sins justly forgiven, because Jesus Christ, on the cross, served our death sentence for us, paid our fine to the divine judge, and so God legally dismissed our case. "There are no more charges against you. Your case is dismissed. You are free to go," says the divine judge. "Your fine has been paid in full."
This is what happens to every new disciple of Jesus Christ who puts his faith and trust in him and confesses his sins with sorrow and abandons them. It is because God himself became a man and took our sins upon himself and made full reparation for them by dying a slow and painful death of suffocation and loss of blood, nailed to a Roman cross, punished as a criminal for our sins, not for his own, for he had none.
When we believe in Christ, God applies the merits of his reparation-making death for our sins to us and declares us righteous, acquitted, and free to go, for our sins have been fully paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross. By this act on the cross and by God's declaration, we who believe in Christ are made new, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), "new men" (Ephesians 4:22-24).
So what is this new justified disciple now to do? How is he to live? He is to leave all and follow Christ, to live for him alone, to make him the center of his life, to seek all his delight in him, no longer in unnecessary worldly pleasures, in three banquet-quality meals per day as before, and in secular recreations and entertainments that make him forget God and divide his heart so that he can no longer love God in a wholehearted, single-minded, undivided, and totally committed way. Instead of his former worldly life, he is now to live and eat very simply and dedicate his life to God and to preaching this good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to all he can reach.
Today's gospel focuses on the utter dedication of life that a disciple of Jesus is to have. He leaves everything to follow a homeless master. He can't even stay around home to bury his father. "Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead'" (Matthew 8:21-22). In St. Luke's version, a would-be disciple can't even go home to say good-bye to his family. "Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:61-62).
So we see how radical Jesus' call is. Gone is the disciple's former life of three banquet-quality meals per day. Now he must do with only the plainest, simplest fare, and all for the love of God. God is to be our only joy, not fancy spiced-up, doctored-up dishes and delicacies. This, the disciple freely and lovingly renounces as he leaves all to follow Jesus. This is the way of perfection, namely to renounce the delights of the world for a plain and simple life of evangelical poverty for the love of the Lord. "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21).
So how are we to live as disciples of Jesus, as "new men," new creatures, people justified by God because of our faith in Jesus Christ?
We are to have one master only, not both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). We are to renounce a pleasure-filled life of fine dining and worldly living. We are to have but one treasure only, and that in heaven, not also treasure on earth, not also a pleasure-filled worldly life and fancy food (Matthew 6:19-21).
Our life is to be plain, not easy and luxurious. It is to be one that enters by the narrow gate and follows the narrow way of life, of undivided love of the Lord. "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).
We are not to be choked by the weeds and thorns, which are the pleasures of life, that prevent us from living a life of perfection, a life of wholehearted, single-minded, undivided love and following of the Lord, seeking all our delight in him. Let us not be like the seed that fell among thorns. "And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature" (Luke 8:14).
Rather let us renounce all for the Lord. "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33). This means even our family. Jesus will not even let a disciple say good-bye to his family or bury his father. "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). We must not prefer anything or anyone to the Lord. He must come first, and radically so.
This is indeed a life of self-denial for the love of God in order to seek and find all our delight only in him. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24 NKJV). We deny ourselves in order to give central importance and attention to Christ, not to our own pleasures.
We want our reward in the Lord, not in worldly pleasures. So "woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24). But rather "blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven" (Luke 6:20).
We are not to be like the rich glutton "who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day" (Luke 16:19), lest Abraham say to us after our death, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things" (Luke 16:25). Let us sacrifice receiving our good things now in our earthly life so that we may have heavenly treasure. Let us lose our life now in the sense of renouncing fine dining and worldly living for the love of God to find all our delight in him, for he who enjoys his delights here will not also have them hereafter. "Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24).
Let us lose our life in this world to save it truly. "For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25).
How do we lose and hate our life in this world? We do so by living and eating simply, eating only simple, plain, healthy food, not seeking our delight in worldly things, but rather spending all our time and energy in the Lord's service. We are to be oriented toward the Lord, not weighed down by worldly delights and fine dining. "But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare" (Luke 21:34).
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