The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

First Reading II Kings 4:8-11,14-16
Second Reading Romans 6:3-4,8-11
Gospel Matthew 10:37-42

“‘Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’”

Saint Paul, in writing to the Romans about their baptism, equates baptism with death. He rhetorically asks them, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” This is a rhetorical question because the Roman Christians are not unaware of this truth. Yet Paul needs to ask it because the choices of their lives don’t reflect this truth. In other words, they’ve not been practicing what Paul’s been preaching.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus addresses a similar discrepancy. His words might seem harsh, but in fact they’re very loving. The seeming harshness comes from the fact that His words are literally radical: they go to the root of practicing the Christian Faith, which is death to self.

Jesus is putting everything—or rather, everyone—in his place. From the place of one’s father and mother in one’s life, to the place of one’s son and daughter, to the place of oneself in one’s own life, Jesus insists that He must be put first.

In taking this stand, Jesus is not wishing to end or even diminish the relationships that each of us has with loved ones. On the contrary, Jesus is explaining that each of the relationships in our lives must both include Jesus, and have Him at the relationship’s center. Otherwise, that relationship will come to an end: that is, it will be finite. But when Jesus is the center of a relationship, that relationship will have no end, presuming of course that all who are part of the relationship persevere in following Jesus wherever He leads.

Of course, adults know from their life experiences that they cannot control others. They cannot force others to know Jesus, to include Him in their lives, and to follow Him.

Those decisions belong to each individual. But if we cannot force others to accept Jesus, we can focus upon a simpler goal. That goal is following Jesus more authentically. That goal is what Jesus addresses in saying to each of us: “…whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

This brings us back to the reality of death. Unbelievers only consider death as that dark day at the end of one’s earthly life. Death for them is a brick wall. Beyond it, there is nothing. Those who follow Jesus, however, have a broader view of death. Not only is the end of earthly life a door instead of a brick wall. The Christian disciple sees death not only far away, at the end of his earthly days. The Christian disciple embraces death in the here and now, taking up his cross each day, knowing that that is how one follows Jesus Christ to eternal life.