HOMILY for 26th Wed per annum (II)
Last Sunday’s Gospel saw the use of exaggeration to emphasize the gravity of sin and its harmful effects on us and on society. Today’s Gospel has three more uses of exaggeration – so-called “hyperbolic proverbs” – to highlight ways to overcome sin and its effects through Christian discipleship. As hyperbole, they’re not meant to be taken absolutely literally – injustice can result if we try to. However, as proverbs imparting practical wisdom we are meant to take them seriously, to find new, urgent, and radical ways to follow Christ, which can be deeply counter-cultural.
Christians in every age have sought to do this. As Vatican II said: “From the very beginning of the Church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating Him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels”. Those who choose religious consecration, then, are like that man in today’s Gospel who freely goes to Christ and says: “I will follow you wherever you go”. And in response, Jesus lays out the demands of discipleship that a religious freely takes on.
In the first place, discipleship transcends material concerns, sacrificing our own comfort, rest, and sense of security. Hence, we place our trust in God’s Providence, confident that God will provide the food, shelter and care that his labourer needs, just as he provided for his Son through the generosity and kindness of friends and strangers. So, in preaching the Gospel, we learn to become dependent on the Word of God and our fidelity to it; the Word becomes our livelihood. Hence, religious promise to live the evangelical counsel of poverty.
Secondly, discipleship transcends even the bonds of natural families and the duties that children have to their parents. In fact, our duty to God always comes first since we owe him absolutely everything. Hence, it is “right and just” that we worship him, and that we serve him. But this is especially true for those who have freely undertaken to follow Christ more closely. Hence, the duty to proclaim the Gospel requires obedience to the needs of Christ’s preaching mission; it takes priority over everything else. So, religious promise to live the evangelical counsel of obedience, which truly ‘bites’ when we cannot be at important and special family occasions. And it has to be acknowledged that this demands not just generosity from us religious, but also from our parents, and from our siblings who often have to make up for our absence.
And finally, discipleship transcends the bonds of the home, sacrificing the intimacy and joys of caring for one’s own family and children, of building a home. The image of the plough is used because the light ploughs used in Jesus‘ time required 100% attention from the farmer, with one hand on the plough and the other to drive the unruly oxen pulling it. If he took his eye off the job he would end up with crooked furrows. Hence, religious promise to live the evangelical counsel of chastity so that they are not distracted by the responsibilities due to a family and home. They’re called to focus their attention and energy, their love, on their apostolate; preparing the ground for God’s Word to be sown.
All this is undertaken for the common good of the Church for as Vatican II says, “the more fervently… they are joined to Christ by this total life-long gift of themselves, the richer the life of the Church becomes and the more lively and successful its apostolate”. So, let us pray for an increase in vocations to the religious life, that many will have the generosity, faith and courage to go to Christ and say: “I will follow you wherever you go”.