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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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