Following Christ—for Christ’s sake.
A Reflection for the Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say,
‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Lk 17:10)
In today’s readings we hear about the demands of discipleship—and they are, well, quite demanding. In the first reading, Paul tells Titus what is to be expected of older men and women in the community. Men are to “be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance,” and women “should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good.” And in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus delivers a rather harsh parable. After telling his disciples that they must avoid causing scandal and must forgive their brother seven times, he asks them: “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?” No, Jesus says, you would tell your slave to make you dinner—and you would not be particularly grateful when he has done so because the slave is simply doing his job. “So should it be with you,” Jesus tells the disciples.
If I allow myself to be transformed by God’s love and follow Christ for Christ’s sake alone, I might merely be an unprofitable servant, but discipleship will be its own reward.
If the only thing driving me to go to Mass, forgive my neighbors and care for the poor is the expectation of external validation, I won’t be going down this road very far.
I am not proud to admit it, but I’ve always been someone motivated by external factors: good grades, praise from a coach, a raise or promotion. So it’s hard to hear that following Jesus means keeping his commands—being merciful, generous, selfless, “sound in faith, love, and endurance”—and that’s just the bare minimum of discipleship, so don’t expect a prize or even a thank you! But it’s a parable I need to hear. What is motivating me as a Catholic? Do I want to be thought of as a good person? To secure my spot in heaven? Or does it come from a place of love, the type of love that makes the burden of discipleship light, or not really a burden at all.
It reminds me of the difference in how I approach learning today versus in high school. Back then, I was a good student, but what drove me was not an intrinsic love of history or English. I craved the approval of teachers and the satisfaction of acing a test. But the problem with that type of learning is that it easily leads to burnout, which by the end of senior year, I pretty much had. Nowadays, I read Jane Austen because I love her wit and social commentary, and I listen to philosophy podcasts because I’m curious about the foundations of Western thought (and I need to be able to keep up with my Jesuit colleagues). It doesn’t feel like work, and I don’t need anyone to take note.
And so it should be with discipleship. If the only thing driving me to go to Mass, forgive my neighbors and care for the poor is the expectation of external validation, I won’t be going down this road very far. But if I allow myself to be transformed by God’s love and follow Christ for Christ’s sake alone, I might merely be an unprofitable servant, but discipleship will be its own reward.