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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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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother (August 27), the instructions of Ambrose (December 7) and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching, and using me—even before I perform or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there.

 
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