The WORD in other words (2023) by Fr Magdaleno Fabiosa SVD – Holy Name Univeristy, Bohol
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
Today’s Gospel is taken from that section in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus talks about the Mission of the Twelve. But in some parts of the said section (chapter), especially our Gospel reading for today, Jesus seems to be addressing a crowd. This observation is in consonance with the section in St. Luke’s Gospel (Lk 14:25-35), where this theme on the cost of discipleship is addressed to a crowd, not to a chosen few. Like most, if not all, of Jesus’ injunctions, they are intended for all his followers. This sounds like what Lumen Gentium teaches: we all are called to one and the same holiness (a relatedness with God), which is not a product of our own efforts but a gift given to us by God, for free.
In this section of Matthew, Jesus is forewarning those who want to follow him about its necessary consequences. To follow Jesus demands that one’s devotion to him must be wholehearted that even attachment to parents and other members of the family must not be allowed to stand in the way. (This is what is meant by the use of that strange word ‘hate’). They have to deny themselves, i.e., say “no” to their “old man,” whose value system is opposed to that of Jesus. They have to give up reliance on their own efforts but rely on God alone, and subject themselves to Jesus’ discipline (being ready to carry one’s cross).
Jesus knew that what he was offering was a new life (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”), which actually is a relationship with God himself, who was incarnated in him. Paul says: “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Jesus also knew the role played by the “spin-offs” of original sin (concupiscence). Our old, divided, inauthentic, and yet so real self resists that life of Christ in us, which, nevertheless, we need absolutely. To absorb Christ’s life implies pain and darkness, mortification and purification, not because Christ wants to inflict suffering on us, but because the inauthentic in us resists transformation.
We can approximate what this means in what happened to the first man who had a heart transplant. Philip Blaiberg, a South African, was the first to undergo a heart transplant in South Africa. From Jan 1968, the time he underwent the heart transplant, to Aug 1969, after the procedure, his entire body, from the brain to the least important cell in his body, fought with ferocity and inventiveness to repel and reject the new heart that, nevertheless, was vital for him.
This should help us understand the language Jesus used when describing the cost of being his disciples. Similarly, our old, divided, inauthentic, and yet so real self will resist the life of Christ in us, which we need absolutely. Because it is an evil threatening our life, that resistance has to be mortified. To absorb the vitality of Christ in ourselves implies pain and darkness, mortification and purification, not because Christ wants to inflict suffering on us, but because the impure and inauthentic in us resists transformation.