What man indeed can know the intentions of God?
Who can divine the will of the Lord?
The reasonings of mortals are unsure
and our intentions unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the teeming mind.
It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth,
laborious to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
As for your intention, who could have learnt it, had you not granted Wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and men been taught what pleases you,
and saved, by Wisdom.
This is Paul writing, an old man now and, what is more, still a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I became while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus. I am sending him back to you, and with him – I could say – a part of my own self. I should have liked to keep him with me; he could have been a substitute for you, to help me while I am in the chains that the Good News has brought me. However, I did not want to do anything without your consent; it would have been forcing your act of kindness, which should be spontaneous. I know you have been deprived of Onesimus for a time, but it was only so that you could have him back for ever, not as a slave any more, but something much better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, as a blood-brother as well as a brother in the Lord. So if all that we have in common means anything to you, welcome him as you would me.
Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. ‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
For the longest time, we have been taught commonsensical dictates such as ‘good things do not come easy’, ‘all good things come with hard work’, or anything along these lines but phrased in any number of ways and languages. Regardless, they all associate the ‘good’ with hard work and even some extent of hardship. But what sort of ‘good’ are we talking about?
Goodness is often associated with the ‘good life’, something which ancient Greek philosophy further associated with living the ‘virtuous’ life. Indeed, there is a famous painting by the Italian painter, Annibale Carraci, that depicts the Greek mythological figure Hercules, choosing between the harder path of Virtue and an easier path of worldly pleasures. As the story goes, Hercules chooses the harder path.
In today’s readings, Jesus is asking us to make a similar choice. Indeed, he is asking that we renounce our worldly possessions, preoccupations and allegiances and take up instead, the mantle of faith. To be His disciple, we need to take up our crosses and follow Him. To follow Him. Through the darkness and the light, through suffering and joy, always to follow Jesus, because we know that our ultimate destination is to be with the Father who created us, and that destination can only be reached through the Son.
We know that such a path is not at all easy. There will be much suffering, persecution and difficult times. In a world that is so secular and fixated on material concerns, to follow Jesus requires much courage and resilience. To follow Jesus requires that we resist all other distractions. Yes, even when such distractions come from our loved ones. This is why Jesus associates His discipleship with “hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters”. Not that we ought to hate them in the way we understand it, but to always remember to place God above them.
Indeed, such a path is not easy at all. But once again, we know that ‘good things do not come easy’. What more the greatest good of them all — to be in the presence of our almighty God. Like Hercules, we have to make a choice. But not simply a choice between a good or bad life. Rather, a choice to believe and follow in Christ — a choice of faith.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for your strength and fortitude. May You send upon us Your Holy Spirit, so that we can continue to follow your Son as His disciples.
Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for the life you have given us, for both the good times and the bad. Thank you for your gift of life.