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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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Hildegard of Bingen: 
		<p>Abbess, artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, theologian--where to begin describing this remarkable woman?</p>
		<p>Born into a noble family, she was instructed for ten years by the holy woman Blessed Jutta. When Hildegard was 18, she became a Benedictine nun at the Monastery of St. Disibodenberg. Ordered by her confessor to write down the visions that she'd received since the age of three, Hildegard took ten years to write her <em>Scivias</em> (<em>Know the Ways</em>). Pope Eugene III read it and in 1147 encouraged her to continue writing. Her <em>Book of the Merits of Life</em> and <em>Book of Divine Works</em> followed. She wrote over 300 letters to people who sought her advice; she also composed short works on medicine and physiology, and sought advice from contemporaries such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux.</p>
		<p>Hildegard's visions caused her to see humans as "living sparks" of God's love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun. Sin destroyed the original harmony of creation; Christ's redeeming death and resurrection opened up new possibilities. Virtuous living reduces the estrangement from God and others that sin causes. </p>
		<p>Like all mystics, she saw the harmony of God's creation and the place of women and men in that. This unity was not apparent to many of her contemporaries. </p>
		<p>Hildegard was no stranger to controversy. The monks near her original foundation protested vigorously when she moved her monastery to Bingen, overlooking the Rhine River. She confronted Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for supporting at least three antipopes. Hildegard challenged the Cathars, who rejected the Catholic Church claiming to follow a more pure Christianity.</p>
		<p>Between 1152 and 1162, Hildegard often preached in the Rhineland. Her monastery was placed under interdict because she had permitted the burial of a young man who had been excommunicated. She insisted that he had been reconciled with the Church and had received its sacraments before dying. Hildegard protested bitterly when the local bishop forbade the celebration of or reception of the Eucharist at the Bingen monastery, a sanction that was lifted only a few months before her death. </p>
		<p>In 2012, Hildegard was canonized and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI.</p>
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