It is one thing to follow Christ’s call but quite another to accept his mission. When Matthew narrated the call of the first disciples, he emphasized the speed of their response. They were adventurous young men who only needed a nudge from God to leave behind all they knew and serve a man who drew crowds wherever he went.
‘Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Mt 10:39)
What ambitions do you bring to Christ’s call?
What is Christ asking you to leave behind?
The evangelist knew the compelling nature of Jesus’ call. At the start, a life of discipleship promises fulfillment, wisdom and grace, as well as potential honor and status. The inspiration of these dreams of doing great things for God can sometimes obscure the hard work and suffering inherent in discipleship. In his preaching this week, Jesus offers his disciples no such illusions. His “Mission Discourse,” the second of five great sermons in Matthew’s Gospel, promises hostility and rejection and offers only abandonment to divine providence as a hope of comfort.
Hostility to Jesus and his message had already begun. The debate over his ability to forgive sins had turned some faithful Jews against him. Now he had doubled down on his claims and was sending his disciples out to spread this same message throughout Judea and Galilee. It is easy to imagine friends and family quietly begging the Twelve not to go; it is easy to imagine the disciples wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Jesus’ response is clear, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
Until now, they had learned from Jesus, but they had not yet risked themselves.
The Twelve must have sensed they were passing a point of no return. Until now, they had learned from Jesus, but they had not yet risked themselves. Now, to continue their discipleship, they had to preach his difficult message alone among strangers. By making his words their own, they were making themselves targets for the hostility directed at Jesus. Those whose goal was to sit at Christ’s side in a restored kingdom of Israel must have been utterly bewildered.
“Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus read the same Hebrew Scriptures we read, and much of what he knew of his Father he learned from their message. Narratives like the first reading’s story of the Shunemite woman from 2 Kings, for example, convinced him that the Father cares for any who undertake a divine mission. Moreover, those who support them receive divine recompense. It is only in abandoning themselves to this providence that the disciples could find the wisdom and grace they had hoped for.
Discipleship today requires the same self-abnegation. We need to speak Christ’s words in our own voice. We need to forsake our ambitions and follow his path. We need to withdraw from clan and class and serve his poor. We have to pass the same point of no return. We will confuse our families and maybe even lose a few friends. The only people who might understand what we are doing are those who have undertaken the same mission themselves. The grace we seek is ours only when we give ourselves over completely to Christ’s mission.