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Bible Reflections View Comments

What Does Jesus Ask of Us? Everything!
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
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As I drive to work many days, I pass the same grizzled homeless man standing in the median selling copies of a publication called Street Vibes that calls attention to the plight of the urban homeless. I rarely carry any cash, and I confess that I tend to avoid eye contact. But the encounter always makes me squirm with the conviction that I’m not doing all I could to live out my commitment to my faith. I think about my cup of Starbucks coffee and my iPhone and the many true luxuries that I have in my life and I renew my determination to do more to help those who are less fortunate.

It’s good to have these reminders, even—or especially— when they make us uncomfortable. The little prodding reminders of who we are and who we follow and how far apart those two things are keep us honest and move us to compassion and justice. The Letter of James, more than almost any other document in the New Testament, takes on this question of how we treat the poor and downtrodden. In the famous passage about faith and good works, he says, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” The cross is at the very heart of Christian discipleship.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus states as clearly as he can the cost of being his follower: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The starkness of this demand stays with us no matter where we are or what we are doing. It reminds us of the many nonnegotiable demands of living a Christian life. The reading from Isaiah reminds us that this kind of selflessness was part of the Judeo-Christian tradition from the beginning. Once humans acquired the knowledge of good and evil but denied that it made a difference, the fall from grace was complete. From the time Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” one prophet after another responded with a resounding yes.

Our reading from Isaiah gives us the words of the Suffering Servant, the mysterious but powerful figure in the Old Testament who represents the ideal Israel and prefigures Christ’s sacrifice. He says, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not ashamed.” Knowing who we are and who God is gives us the strength to live our calling as Christian disciples.

This is perhaps why Jesus begins the difficult conversation in which he introduces his upcoming suffering with a question about who people say he is. Only if we know who we follow—and why—will we be able to live the difficult demands that may be asked of us. Throughout the Gospels, we get a sense of how people responded to the presence of Jesus. Few people were indifferent to him. Like many charismatic figures, he inspires deep and passionate responses, both positive and negative. His enemies want to kill him. The crowds want to make him king. His closest followers ultimately let him live in them and through them. We who claim Christ as our Messiah and Savior know that much—everything— will be asked of us. We may spend our entire lives living up to this demand, but our hope lies in the knowledge that the reward will be well worth the effort.


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Conversion of St. Paul: Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “...entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior. 
<p>One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing. </p><p>From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a). </p><p>Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new. </p><p>So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.</p> American Catholic Blog If you’re confused as to why God would die for you, you either need to rethink your vision of His mercy or of your own worth.

 
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