14th Sunday Year B
Living out God’s call involves hardship. Am I prepared?
Before Jesus was taken up to heaven, He commanded his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20) Most of us know this verse well. But how many of us actually live it? Do I go out and spread the Good News? Do I bring people to Jesus? Do I teach them what Jesus commanded? Do I myself even obey what Jesus commanded? How many of us can truthfully answer ‘yes’ to the above questions? If not, why not?
All baptised Christians are tasked by our Lord to spread the Good News, to be beacon of light in this darkened world. But many of us do not live up to this. Why? Many of us will cite one or more of the following reasons: “I have no time”, “It is not something I think about much”, “I do not know Christian teachings well enough” and for some of us who are really honest, “I do not lead an exemplary Christian life”. If we are serious about living Jesus’ call, there are in fact sensible remedies to all the reasons cited above. We can undergo spiritual formation; develop a closer relationship with Jesus; be more aware of Jesus’ presence in my life and His calling to me; and so on. But even if we have done all that, there is still one reason, often uncited, that stops us. It is the phenomenon we called Cancel Culture.
We live in a secular and relativist world. We like to present a facade of harmony by agreeing with everyone, even if what I am agreeing to are polar opposites of each other. This is the essence of relativism. In this world where there is an appearance of consensus on everything, there is actually no consensus on all the major things, yet no one dare to be openly different. Occasionally, when someone dare to articulate a heart-felt but different point of view, the tyranny of superficial consensus is unleashed upon the person. The individual is trolled on social media; has his/her reputation dragged to the mud; and pressure is applied to the person’s employer with the ultimate aim of threatening the person’s livelihood. This, my brothers and sisters, is the insidious modus operandi of the Cancel Culture. This ultimately is the reason many Christians are afraid to put their Christian values on display publicly. In the world today, being a Christians is not a cool thing any more, especially among our young people. To use the LGBT terminology “coming of the closet”, more and more Christians are entering into the closet, becoming “closet Christians”.
This is the same problem faced by the prophet Ezekiel in the First Reading. In the late 6th Century BC, the Babylonian conquered the Jewish kingdom of Judah. Subsequently, many Jews were taken into exile in Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel was among them. It was a dark time in Jewish history, like the present time, it was a time when many of the Jewish people have abandoned God. Amidst this darkness, God called Ezekiel. God gave Ezekiel the very difficult task of becoming His messengers to the people who have abandon Him (verse 5). My dear brothers and sisters, God is commanding us today as he commanded Ezekiel in the First Reading: “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” (verse 3-4)
Just as in Ezekiel’s time, professing Christian values today will draw a dissenting response from the secular world. As we challenge behaviours such as drug abuse, sexual immorality, personal irresponsibility, abortion, euthanasia and materialism, we make people feel uncomfortable. The fact is, we cannot point out the errors of others while pretending to endorse their choices and lifestyle. Whereas the term “Cancel Culture” is a modern term, it is actually not a modern phenomenon. Jesus drew the resentment many while He was on earth. Take the Gospel this week for example, the people took offence at Jesus’ teaching. So they tried to discredit Him by questioning his family background: “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (verse 2-3) In another episode, after Jesus drove the demon out of a possessed man, He was accused to be in cahoot with Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons (Mt 12:22-24).
Living out Jesus’ call often exacts a personal cost on us. Keyboard warriors troll us on social media; colleagues turn against us at the workplace; and even family members turn against us in our homes. This is why Jesus said to us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own 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 the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:34-38) Truly, to be a true Christians today is to be sheep in the midst of wolves (Mt 10:16).
The great disciple St Paul experienced his fair share of Cancel Culture in his time. Before his conversion, St Paul was a well-respected Jewish scholar who trained under the renowned Gamaliel. Furthermore, he was conferred many privileges by virtue of his Roman citizenship. Upon his conversion, all these were taken from him. For living out Jesus’ calling, St Paul suffered much, as he recounted, “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” (2 Cor 11:24-27) In our church communities, many clamour for leadership roles because of the attention it attracts and the status it confers. But are these leaders as forthcoming with our Christian identity outside the walls of the church? Indeed, as St Paul shown us, there is nothing glamorous about being the Lord’s messenger. In this week’s Second Reading, he lamented, “to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated” (verse 7). In truth, to be a disciple of Jesus is to carry our cross daily.
Jesus is the King who wears a crown of thorns. For us Christians too, the crown of thorns is our crowning glory. St Paul recognised this. He said, “I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death” (2 Cor 11:23). In the Second Reading, he said, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (verse 10). St Paul lived the hardship of discipleship till the very end. At the end of his life, he said, “I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day” (2 Tim 4:6-8)
What about me? Does the life of Jesus and the life of St Paul inspire me? Am I ready to walk in their footsteps? “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) My brothers and sisters, in living out our calling, let us always remember this promise. May the Lord be with you.