The Cost of Following Christ
In year I, the first readings of the weekdays of the 15th to Friday of the 17th week of Ordinary Time are taken from the Book of Exodus. They are of capital importance for the religious history of humanity and of God’s adventure with his chosen people. Terms like slavery and oppression in the religious sense, Passover, Passover Lamb, salvation through water, covenant, the making of a people and nation, the Promised Land, the Law and the Ten Commandments, are themes fundamental for Christianity too. The first reading shows us the slavery and oppression of the Hebrews, the core of the People of God, in Egypt, conceived by the ‘king who did not know Joseph’.
Christ could bring us life and grace because he suffered for us. He could rise because he was crucified and died on a cross. No easy life is promised to his disciples. Suffering, the cross are their share too. In God’s plan, this is the way to life. It’s not too comfortable, but these are God’s terms.
1 Reading: Exodus 1:8-14, 22
A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his subjects, “Look how numerous and powerful the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country.” Accordingly, taskmasters were set over the children of Israel to oppress them with forced labour. Thus they had to build for Pharaoh the supply cities of Pithom and Raamses. Yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread. The Egyptians, then, dreaded the children of Israel and reduced them to cruel slavery, making life bitter for them with hard work in mortar and brick and all kinds of field work—the whole cruel fate of slaves. Pharaoh then commanded all his subjects, Throw into the river every boy that is born to the Hebrews, but you may let all the girls live.”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 124:1b-3, 4-6, 7-8
R. (8a) Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Had not the LORD been with us–
let Israel say, had not the LORD been with us–
When men rose up against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive,
When their fury was inflamed against us. R.
Then would the waters have overwhelmed us;
The torrent would have swept over us;
over us then would have swept
the raging waters.
Blessed be the LORD, who did not leave us
a prey to their teeth. R.
We were rescued like a bird
from the fowlers’ snare;
Broken was the snare,
and we were freed.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. R.
Alleluia: Matthew 5:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 10:34—11:1
Jesus said to his Apostles: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” When Jesus finished giving these commands to his Twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.
To the throne of Egypt came new king who knew nothing of Joseph. Times change. Favour today may mean disfavour tomorrow. As the Book of Exodus opens, the golden era of Joseph has passed, and the Hebrews, having grown in numbers, are now subjected to cruel servitude by a later pharaoh. To prevent their increase in number, the pharaoh ordered the death of all male babies.
The Gospel today indicates that the reception of Christ was mixed. Certainly, Christ did not come with the message of a sword. Peace was always his central theme. But the acceptance of his message often resulted in deep divisions within a family. Members turned on one another in a way that was destructive of the peace desired by Christ. In a world where falsehood and deceit are given titles, truth becomes instant enemy.
Christ goes on to speak of the allegiance that is expected of those who follow him. To place others before him is to subordinate the primary calling. By the same token, kindness toward one of Christ’s disciples is kindness to him. Because of our human condition, we are all at times tempted to put Christ in second place. But when we stop and consider our Christian calling, we know that nothing can take precedence over that. In him is our life and destiny, our Saviour and inspiration. Deep in our conscience we know that he must have priority of place.
Be free. Be true and honest with yourselves, be honest with God and faithful to Jesus and his message, even if it causes conflicts with people dearest to you. May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!