Saturday, September 3, 2016

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Burden That Carries Us

On Good Friday when the people approach the crucifix to kiss the figure of Jesus we sing the hymn The Old Rugged Cross. This song ends with this sentence, "I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it someday for a crown."

If you notice the whole thought and imagery of that song, it is singing about the cross of Jesus, not about our cross. Even in the first stanza the cross it is referring to is "that old rugged cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain." This is the cross on which Jesus died. It is a beautiful song about the cross of Jesus.

But in our Gospel reading today Jesus was referring to the cross that we have to carry if we are to be his followers and disciples, our cross, not his cross. Here are his words as read today: "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Clearly here Jesus was referring to the cross that we have to carry.

The topic of the cross that we have to carry has been so talked about in our hymns, books, articles, conversations, preachings that most people think about this cross as a form of suffering or inconvenience that we have to bear with if we are to keep our life look like a Christian life. Thus we have the expression "bear your cross with patience". Thus most people think that the cross can be a physical or mental handicap, a jobless period in our life, a divorce or rejection by the one we love, a situation of poverty, a sickness or an incurable ailment, like AIDS, or anything making our life miserable.

But this was not the meaning of the cross that we carry according to Jesus. In another passage in Luke he tells us that we carry our cross daily (9:23). This certainly does not mean that every day of our life we face some kind of sickness or misfortune or untoward incident. This would make a Christian a victim of circumstances. But as Paul the Apostle says, We are more than conquerors because of Jesus who loved us (Romans 8:37). 

First, let us get the literal meaning of the cross as Jesus meant it. The Greek word Luke uses for what we translate as cross is stauron. This means a pale or stake. A person condemned by the Romans to be crucified would carry this pale or stake to the place where he would be crucified. Except for some good movies Jesus is portrayed by them as carrying the wood with already the cross beam nailed to it. Even in the famous movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson Jesus is portrayed as carrying the two pieces of wood fastened across each other already. In the movie King of Kings Jesus is pictured as carrying the wood with the beam across it already but the thieves were carrying only the beam. Their pale or stake was already on the place of crucifixion.

That is the literal meaning of the word "cross" for Jesus, a piece of wood which the man condemned by the Romans to death would carry to the place of the crucifixion. It was only one piece of wood, not two pieces crossed against each other as we see in pictures of the Stations of the Cross.

Now to the real meaning of the cross as Jesus meant it. He meant the literal cross, the stauron, a piece of wood carried by the condemned man. But as we know Jesus used pictures or parables to drive home his point. By telling us that we carry our  cross daily and follow him he meant that like him we behave as men and women carrying the instrument of our crucifixion, of our cruel death. We are ready to die always, every day of our lives for him. This is what he meant.

He did not mean that he would send us sickness or pain or sorrow or anything inconvenient in our life and we have to bear this patiently. He simply meant that we would be ready to die for him daily, anytime. And the other sentences in the Gospel reading clarify this.

We are told by Jesus to hate our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even our own life. In other words we are ready to leave them for his sake. We have to calculate the cost of following him lest others laugh at us. The cost is renouncing all our possessions as though we are dying.

Renouncing all that we have whether persons or things is not just for the monks, religious and clergy. This is basic for all Christians. Unless we do this we cannot call ourselves real Christians. This is what Jesus said, Unless you do this you cannot be his disciple, a real follower of his.

The Christian life is a dying life, a life dying to all we possess whether things or persons and dying to our own self.

The book Imitation of Christ has a beautiful chapter on the Cross. It is chapter 12 of Book 2 of the Imitation. It is entitled "The Royal Road of the Holy Cross". Here we read, "If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry and lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall no more suffering." The cross is the burden that carries us forward in our Christian life.

The cross for each one of us is our death sentence. We are ready to die for Jesus, for his sake, for the sake of spreading his kingdom. This we carry every day of our lives, ready to shed our blood and life for Jesus. We are men and women condemned to die. That is what Jesus meant when he said that we carry our cross. We carry our death sentence. Let us imitate Paul the Apostle who wrote to the Corinthians, "I face death every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31).

Let us bow our heads in prayer.

Lord Jesus, you told us to carry our cross daily. Yes, we are willing to die for you daily, any time of the day, leaving our family, friends and possessions. This is the only way to be happy with you every day. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised).

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.


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