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The Cost of Discipleship

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

August 31, 2014
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27

When you involve yourself with the Church, you quickly learn that the cost of discipleship can be very high. Through the ages—and even today—many followers of Christianity have paid that cost with their lives. Most of us, though, will not be martyred. Nonetheless, the cost of following Jesus can be very painful sometimes leading to the loss of relationships we value. Today’s Gospel reminds us that we should be willing to endure trials and hardship if we follow Christ.

As much as those who minister in the Church would like to think that we have greater trials than the rest of the Christian community, we are like all Christians. We are tried…and sometimes found wanting.

As a child, we heard stories of the martyrs and all the suffering they endured for the faith. Martyrdom seemed rather romantic to me at the time. I suppose that was because it was very unlikely that I would be martyred. Living in the United States and being free to practice our faith puts martyrdom in a totally different category.

When I learned about “the cost of discipleship”, I linked that with martyrdom and put it in the “highly unlikely” column. Then I became an adult and learned that there is another kind of cost that those of us who believe are called to pay. Even though most Church ministers are not as sensitive as Jeremiah who seemed to live with his emotional nerve endings very close to the surface, all of us are sometimes discouraged.

We knew from the beginning that we would pay a price for choosing to minister in the Church. Somehow, though, we did not expect resistance and antagonism from within the Church. Our reaction is frequently like Jeremiah’s. We think, perhaps, that this is not what we should be doing with our lives. We have, indeed, —like Jeremiah—been seduced by God. And isn’t that wonderful?

Jesus’ disciples, too, were much like us. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah but their ideas about what that would mean were very different from Jesus’ plans. They were looking for a conqueror, someone that would lead the Jews to power. When that happened, naturally the first places in the kingdom would belong to his followers. Now Jesus had to explain that he planned to walk the way of the cross and those who followed him needed to walk that same path. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers that he will suffer and all that follow him will suffer, too.

It is helpful to remember that Matthew was writing his Gospel during the time of persecution. Those who read it would understand the meaning of “saving their lives” in a very different way than we understand that phrase. Those who read this column know that it is very unlikely they will by martyred. The life to which we cling is one of safety, security, and comfort. If we are going to follow Jesus, we need to be different from those whose aim is material. In the end, it is in giving ourselves that we receive.

Today, those who gather at the Eucharist remember that we are called to follow Jesus. Our presence here is a sign that the Word of the Lord lives in us as it did in Jeremiah. We surrender to the God who has an ultimate right to our very being.

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