The saints are people whose lives have been open to the Spirit. The very opposite of what Pope Francis calls “a dull and dreary mediocrity” (Gaudete et Exsultatem 138).
Saints are not born as such; they undergo a process of conversion. Perhaps that is the reason why our Byzantine lectionary chooses the passages from Matthew which we read today. In fact our Sunday Gospel passages will be taken from Matthew over the next seventeen weeks (more or less). This is the gospel of conversion, discipleship, obedience of the Church assembly. As one commentator says: “Unfortunately, Christianity as most Christians live it does not raise up FOLLOWERS of Jesus, but ADHERENTS to a religion. It does not make disciples identified with Jesus’ vision, committed to opening ways to the reign of God, but members of an institution who more or less fulfil their religious obligations.” For most of us this is the gospel to read if we want to walk in the way that Jesus opened up.
Today we have read just a few of Jesus’ instructions from his missionary discourse.
First we are told if we loyally confess Jesus on earth he will confess us at the great reckoning before his Father in heaven.
Second division in families is to be expected; family loyalties must take second place to the following of Jesus.
It may seem strange that we begin to read a gospel with the middle section. But for the moment chronology is not our purpose. Getting straight to the point about discipleship is.
Recently the clergy of our eparchy held a “zoom” meeting which dealt with homilies. Bishop Peter gave some advice from his own seminary formation with the following quotation from Karl Barth: “Take your bible and take your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your bible.” In the light of that advice let me repeat the following incident. I am sure that many of you have already heard about Martin Gugino, the peace activist from Buffalo, N.Y. this elderly man is surely full of the Spirit. The 75 year old during a peaceful protest about “black lives matter,” was shoved to the ground by police. Video pictures clearly show Gugino hitting his head on the pavement and bleeding. President Donald Trump suggested, “Buffalo protester shoved by police could be an Antifa provocateur — I watched, he fell harder that he was pushed. Was aiming scanner, could be a set up?” Outrage on the part of many people followed.
In response Christians must ask “what is the cost of discipleship?” The peace protester who is in public without violence may be active in the name of Jesus. Or is he?
Can we dismiss this as mere politics? We who have witnessed the Maidan in Ukraine must be amazed to see such events happen in a democratic country. What then does discipleship ask of us in the public sphere?
“Many who are first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
Fr Brian Kelty