15 July – Memorial of St Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
St Bonaventure (1218-1274)
Exodus 1:8-14, 22
There came to power in Egypt a new king who knew nothing of Joseph. ‘Look,’ he said to his subjects ‘these people, the sons of Israel, have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further, or if war should break out, they might add to the number of our enemies. They might take arms against us and so escape out of the country.’ Accordingly they put slave-drivers over the Israelites to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way they built the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread, and men came to dread the sons of Israel. The Egyptians forced the sons of Israel into slavery, and made their lives unbearable with hard labour, work with clay and with brick, all kinds of work in the fields; they forced on them every kind of labour.
Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.
Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
Almost every line in the gospel reading of Matthew today would make many of us feel uncomfortable. Especially when Jesus begins like this: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword.” (Mt 10:34) After all, didn’t He comfort his disciples when He foretold His death, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you”? (Jn 14:27)
What did Jesus mean by the imagery that He was bringing a sword? And what did He mean by saying: He had came to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother… a man’s enemies will be those of his own household (Mt 10:35-36). I had read these lines many times in the past, and I always found myself confused and annoyed. That was some time ago when, if I had read something in the Bible which I did not agree with, or felt perplexed by, I would choose to either decide that it was irrelevant to my life, or accept my confusion and say “Okay, let’s agree to disagree.” My attitude towards understanding Jesus’ words really sucked back then, and looking back, I am chastised and amused! I am sure we’ve all shared similar responses at some point in our journey.
The real challenge here is to see that Jesus did not preach dissent or disharmony within the household, if your family did not agree with your way of life, or even choice of faith. Of course, it is quite simplistic to conclude that He meant we should go head-on with our families, or abandon them, in defense of our faith or actions, arising from our choice to walk with Jesus.
Jesus wants us to overturn our own notions of the familiar, and familial. “Anyone who prefers father or mother more to me is not worthy of me… anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me” (v. 37-38). A great threat to true discipleship is the comfort of familiarity. Jesus is drawing our attention to the fact that, the contentment we experience from the stability, joy, and earthliness of our human relationships, can pull us away from a deeper and more intimate personal relationship with Him! No, we do not abandon our families and friends. Neither do we cast each other aside with accusations that “Oh, that’s because you’re not leading me to Christ.” At the root of it all, God is Love – Jesus is the source and also the fruit of this Divine Love. Jesus wants us to choose Him in love, first… and then all other kinds of love (between family, husband and wife, friendship) will follow, being innately rooted in our love for Christ.
Jesus invites us to “Choose Me first. Love Me first. Prefer Me over your parents; over your children. Prefer me over your wife or husband. Prefer me over your friends! By choosing to loathe, and not cling onto this life you are familiar with on earth, you will possess of Me – and in doing so, you will receive Life through Me.” This ‘Life’ Jesus proposes is not just some far-off, romanticised, spiritual, Eternal life that we think is all He can talk about – being the Son of God!
By our ‘letting-go’ of earthly life (as we know it, in earthly possessions and earthly relations), we are preferring Jesus in our present choices. But what comes back to us is an abundance of Life in its fullness that God always intended – as fulfilling life-giving relationships with each other, satisfying life-giving decisions in our careers/endeavours/pursuits, and finally the best gift of all – the reward of Eternal Life. The Eternal life that some of us may elusively aspire to, is lived first on earth, today and within every moment. I think the Saints got it right. Not just the Saints who were religious or martyrs; but let us think of those saintly lay persons who started very small and simple. They too are our models of faith!
How do I start then, you ask? Perhaps the next time you feel challenged by a verse from the Bible, don’t settle for a disagreement with God. Let that Truth that grates on you, sand down all your rough edges, by choosing to loathe all those comfortable, familiar habits and preconceptions you are still clinging onto.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Jesus, it is not easy for me to understand what taking up my cross entails. But give me the grace of clarity and courage to discern it, and to follow in Your footsteps. I want to know You more.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of our loved ones who bring us joy; and difficult people who challenge us to grow. They remind us that the ultimate source of all goodness in life is our loving Heavenly Father!