by Fr Odise SDB
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There was a certain (so called) Christian who went to a Jewish Rabbi complaining, saying that I cannot support any more this Christian life. There are too many rules and regulations, that they are stressing my life. I am sick and tired of all these commandments. They do not say anything else except don’t do this and don’t do that. I cannot afford a life of don’t, don’t, don’t, everything is don’t! So, I want to change religion. What should I do to become a Jew? The Rabbi looking at him, started laughing at him. The Christian man said to the Rabbi, I am not joking, I want to become a Jewish man. The Rabbi continued to laugh even louder than before. The Christian man got a bit upset and asked him, why are you laughing? That is not funny, I am a serious man! The Rabbi answered him, you are complaining for ten commandments. Do you know how many laws we have? The man replied saying, I do not know that, but am ready for any sacrifice… just to avoid these Christian don’ts!
The Rabbi laughed again and said to him, you are complaining for ten commandments. What are you going to do with our 613 laws? From 613 there are 365 don’ts (negatives), compared with the whole days of a year and 248 positive laws, which remind the number of the bones and main organs of the human body. By hearing that the Christian man felt so shameful and said to the Rabbi, wait a moment, let me try once again to keep our commandments…!
In the first reading Prophet Jeremiah (20:7-9) had a similar problem, complaining, because following the Lord was not easy. He was saying to Him, “You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed. All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me” (Jer 20:7). He wanted to forget about God, not to speak about Him, but something like fire was burning in his heart, that he could not stop it (see Jer 20:9). Nevertheless, he believed and trusted in the One who called him saying that, “But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not prevail” (Jer 20:11).
In today’s Gospel (Mt 16:21-27), Jesus confirms that following Him is not easy. It demands a price, although He, himself has already paid the biggest amount of it. However, it still remains for us to do our part in following Him. What is that part for us? Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (16:24). Suffering and self-denial are central to the Christian life. These suffering is not just for us, but He too passed through as He predicted in today’s Gospel that “He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21). Hearing this, his disciples were disturbed and probably they might have said in their minds, what is He talking about? In Jerusalem they were supposed to go and celebrate the great feast of Passover, eat drink and enjoy their life and Jesus somehow scandalised them by saying that. Than here Peter stood up as Jesus had said to him just a little while ago that “You are Peter (rock), and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loosen on earth shall be loosened in heaven” (Mt 16:18-19). So, he went to Jesus trying to advise Him saying “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v 22), but Jesus said to Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (v 23). Thus, Jesus does not keep favouritism with anyone. What He simply wants from us is an open heart. How the heart of his disciples should be? How our heart should be in following Him?
The hearts of Jesus’ followers (ours included) should be like a sponge immersed in water, ready to receive and as soon as it gets out of the water it is ready to give almost everything. Because, if our hearts were self-sufficient like a stone, closed in itself, we will not be able to receive anything beyond what we already have.
Therefore, our heart should be like a sponge. As we get immersed in God’s Divine Grace and Love by entering in the Church, listening to His Word and getting nourished by His precious Body and Blood. Then, as soon as we get out of the Church, it is our honour and duty to share with joy and love what we have received from Him. Especially now during this time of the pandemic, we are invited to be generous with others. To be generous not just giving money or whatever we have, but what we are, which means to offer our time, talents, and our prayers, without forgetting a sincere smile and so on.
So, if we want to be heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, we ought to suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. As Saint Paul says, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is coming. (see Rom 8:17-18).
Be blessed and be a blessing.