13th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:8–11, 14–16a; Romans 6:3–4, 8–11; Matthew 10:37–42
Follower or admirer? When our cross becomes too heavy to carry, we should do what Jesus did—accept help from others. Clarence Jordan published the Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, he also got involved in interracial work in Georgia.
This work was not a popular occupation in the South in the 1960s. Tension between blacks and whites was high. People staged sit-ins in restaurants. Marchers paraded down city streets. Police used dogs and fire hoses to disperse black protesters and white sympathizers.
Soon Clarence’s work came under fire. He turned to his brother Robert for legal help. His brother was a prominent Georgia lawyer and politician.
Clarence was shocked when his brother refused to help him. Robert McClendon, who tells the story in Biography as Theology, says that what shocked Clarence most was that his brother and he had committed their lives to Jesus together.
Clarence immediately confronted his brother about his commitment. Robert defended himself, saying:
I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point. . . . I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.
Clarence looked at his brother and said, Robert, you’re not a follower of Jesus, you’re only an admirer of his. Clarence’s remark caused Robert some deep soul searching.
Whoever does not take up his cross and follow in my steps, says Jesus in today’s gospel, is not fit to be my disciple.
We can all relate to Robert’s feelings. There are times in our lives when our commitment to Jesus is tested to the breaking point.
There are times in our lives when the full impact of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel hit home with frightening force.
Some hardship or tragedy strikes us, and we are tempted not to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. We are tempted to turn away from Jesus and follow in his footsteps no longer.
For example, it’s hard for a young woman to pick up her cross and follow Jesus after being rejected and cast aside by someone she loved deeply. Its hard for an old man to pickup his cross and follow Jesus after he has been forcefully placed in a nursing home.
It’s hard for a wife to pick up her cross and follow Jesus when her husband spends his nights away from her and the children.
It’s hard for a young man to pick up his cross and follow Jesus after a drunk driver has doomed him to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. What do people like this do when the cross that has suddenly been thrust upon them seems to exceed their strength to carry it?
What do we do when a cross suddenly thrust upon us seems to exceed our ability to carry it?
When such a cross finds its way into our life, we must recall that there was a time in the life of Jesus when his cross exceeded his strength to carry it. And when that time came, Jesus had to accept the help of a stranger, Simon of Cyrene.
Think of it! The Son of God, the Savior of the world, had to admit to himself and to the world that he lacked the strength to carry his cross.
If the Son of God had the humility to do this, then certainly we should have the humility to follow suit. When the cross in our life becomes too heavy for us to carry, we should reach out for help as Jesus did.
And to whom do we reach out?
First and foremost, we reach out to Jesus himself.
Jesus knows what it feels like to stagger and fall beneath a cross. He knows what it feels like to have to admit a cross has become too heavy to carry alone. He knows what it feels like to have to humble yourself and accept help from another.
Besides reaching out to Jesus, however, we should also reach out to other people like ourselves to a spouse, a parent, a friend, or even to a professional counselor, if need be.
Today’s gospel is an invitation to each one of us to ask ourselves the humbling question: Are there times in our lives when it becomes next to impossible for us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus?
If our answer to that question is yes, then today’s gospel holds out a challenge to us.
It challenges us to do what Jesus did when his own cross became too heavy to carry. It challenges us to do what Clarence Jordan did when he needed help. It challenges us to reach out for help.
Finally, the story of how Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross, and the story of how Robert Jordan refused to help his brother in his time of need, make us ask ourselves this question: How do we respond to people when they reach out to us for help? Do we refuse to help them? Do we help them reluctantly and grudgingly? Or do we help them compassionately and cheerfully?
Let’s close with a prayer that summarizes the invitation and the challenge contained in today’s gospel:
Give us your strength, Lord.For sometimes things get tough, and we are ready to quit. Give us your love, Lord.Because sometimes people reject us, and we are tempted to hate.
Give us your eyes, Lord.Because sometimes life gets dark, and we lose our way.
Give us your courage, Lord.Because often we are put under pressure,and it’s hard to do what is right.
Give us yourself, Lord.Because our hearts were made for you, and we will not rest until we rest in you. M.L.
In the name of the Father,and of the Son,and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Series II 13th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:8–11, 14–16a; Romans 6:3–4, 8–11; Matthew 10:37–42
The singer Faith gives us the strength to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus.
There’s a sad scene in the movie American Anthem. It shows a young man who cannot accept the fact that he’s lost a leg in an accident.
He refuses to leave his room. And he tries to keep everyone out of it, including the girl he once admired and loved. Instead, he keeps the blinds pulled down and passes his time in semidarkness, playing music.
Contrast that sad scene with another scene, reported by Robert Bruce.
One day Bruce was walking down a crowded city street. Above the noise of the traffic, the honking horns, and the talking people, he suddenly heard the sound of someone singing cheerfully and beautifully.
It wasn’t a boisterous kind of singing, but rather a soft, peaceful kind of singing, like someone singing to himself.
When Bruce located the source of the sound, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The sound was coming from a young man in a wheelchair, who was pushing himself along by the only useful limbs he had: his arms.
These two scenes illustrate in a moving way one of the things Jesus talks about in today’s gospel. He says:
“Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples.”
The first young man refused to take up his cross and follow Jesus.
He refused to accept his new situation of having to face life with an artificial leg. And that refusal brought deep sadness not only to him but also to all around him.
The second young man took up his cross. He accepted his situation of having to face life, not with an artificial leg, but with no legs at all. And that acceptance brought deep peace not only to him but also to all around him. All of us can relate to the situations of those two young men.
We too have experienced setbacks, sufferings, or tragedy in our lives. We too have experienced painful situations that we could not change. We too have faced the painful choice of how to respond to those situations. Would we refuse to take up our cross, as the first young man did? Or would we take it up and follow Jesus, as the second young man did?
This raises an immensely important question.
Why is it that some people can take up their cross and follow Jesus, while others cannot?
Why is it that some people can suffer reversal and come away better people, while others can suffer the same reversal and come away bitter people?
Why is it that for some people tragedy is a stepping-stone to personal growth and maturity, while for others it’s a stumbling block?
Viktor Frankl, one of the great psychotherapists of our time, addresses this question in his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Frankl was a prisoner of the Nazis during World War II. He experienced firsthand the brutal climate in concentration camps, which turned some prisoners into animals and others into saints.
He experienced firsthand the evil that drove some prisoners to despair and hatred and others to hope and love.
Frankl says the deciding difference between those prisoners who became animals and those who became saints was faith. It was faith that their lives and thus their suffering had ultimate meaning. This faith put them in touch with a power that helped them maintain their humanity even in the face of incredible inhumanity.
This brings us back to our original question: Why can some people in today’s world take up their cross and follow Jesus, while others cannot?
What gives one young man the courage to roll his wheelchair down a busy city street and sing, while another young man can’t find the courage to roll up the blinds and let in the light of day?
The answer is the same one that Frankl gives in his book: It is faith.
For the Christian, it is the faith that as Jesus brought new life to the world by taking up his cross and carrying it, so we can bring new life to the world by taking up our cross and carrying it.
It is faith in God’s word to us in today’s second reading, that just as we were buried with Christ in baptism, so we will be raised to new life with him because of that same baptism.
It is faith in God’s word in the First Letter of Peter, which tells us:
[B]e glad that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may be full of joy when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13
It is faith in God’s word to the Romans, which tells us:
I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
It is faith in God’s word to the Corinthians, which tells us:
What no one ever saw or heard, what no one ever thought could happen, is the very thing God prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9
It is faith in God’s word in the Book of Revelation, which tells us:
“[God] will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4
This is the good news Jesus brings to us. This is the message that Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, used to carry in her purse:
Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us seekers after that which we can never fully find, keep us at tasks too hard for us, that we may be drawn to you for strength. Series III 13th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:8–11, 14–16a; Romans 6:3–4, 8–11; Matthew 10:37–42
Discipleship Committing our lives to Jesus and trusting in his grace no matter what. Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples. Matthew 10:38
If you’re not a professional basketball fan, you may not know who Lenny Wilkens is.
If you are, you are probably aware that he’s not only a successful NBA coach, but also an exemplary Catholic.
As a hall-of-fame player, Lenny scored over 17,000 points and was credited with over 7,000 assists in his playing days.
He began his coaching days as a player-coach with the Seattle Supersonics, leading them to an NBA championship.
In the course of his coaching career, he has posted over 1,000 team victories, more than any NBA coach. In 1996, he was picked as head coach of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team.
But Lenny’s athletic career doesn’t begin to tell the story.
Lenny Wilkins says his life was shaped by three heroes God put into his life. The first of these three heroes was his mother. His loving Afro-American father died when Lenny was only five. This left his Irish Catholic mother with the job of raising four small children. To make ends meet, she worked part time in a candy factory.
The secret of her strength, says Lenny, was her nonstop novenas to Our Lady and to Saint Anthony. It was his mother’s example that taught him to walk in the steps of Jesus.
This brings us to Lenny’s second hero. One day a news reporter asked Lenny, “Did you ever doubt your Catholic faith when you were growing up? Lenny said, “Never!”
He did, however, admit that at times, he was disillusioned by some of his Catholic brothers and sisters.
For example, on the streets he was called a “half-breed,” and in churches outside his neighborhood, he was made to feel unwelcome.
It was right here where his second hero helped him immensely. That hero was his parish priest, Father Mannion, for whom he used to serve Mass.
Father Mannion explained to Lenny that God gives everybody a free will. That means everybody, including priests, is capable of doing some lousy things.
In other words, he was saying to Lenny, “Don’t blame God because people abuse their free will. Don’t blame God any more than you’d blame Beethoven because some lousy musicians massacre his great music.
Beethoven is not the problem; the bogus musicians are. Similarly, God and Church are not the problem; bigoted people who abuse their free will are.
This explanation stayed with Lenny right on into his pro career. When a cross fell on him as they fall on all of us he simply shouldered the cross, and continued to follow in the steps of Jesus and his teaching.
All the while, Lenny continued to say the rosary, go to Mass sometimes daily and work for justice for the poor and exploited.
And who was Lenny’s final hero? Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in professional sports.
As a seven-year-old, Lenny used to deliver groceries. One day a delivery took him to an address in a new apartment. The occupant turned out to be his hero: Jackie Robinson.
He said Robinson sat him down, talked with him maturely, and made him feel that he sincerely cared about him.
He never forgot Robinson’s kindness. It led him to show the same kindness to young people when he became a star.
And so three heroes his mother, his parish priest, and Jackie Robinson. They inspired him and motivated him to pick up his cross and keep following Jesus, no matter the sacrifice cost.
This leads us to an application of Lenny’s story and today’s Gospel reading to our own lives. One thing is certain about each one of us in this Church. Like Lenny, we all have some cross to carry.
It may not be the same as Lenny’s. But it may well be just as heavy.
“Fine!” you say to me. “But what does one do when the cross becomes so heavy that we find it next to impossible to continue carrying?”
We can do what Lenny’s mother did. We can turn to Jesus in prayer, knowing that the same Jesus who gave us the cross to carry will also give us the strength to carry it.
Or we can do what Lenny himself did. He turned for help and guidance to the people God put in his life specifically for this purpose.
And so, today’s Gospel has something important to say about those times in our lives when our cross seems too heavy for us to carry alone. First, it tells us to turn for help to Jesus, to a parent, a friend, or a priest or teacher.
Second, it invites us to reach out to others in need of help, just as others have reached out to us in our time of need.
Above all, it invites us to reach out to our family members when they are having difficulty in carrying their cross.
It invites us to treat them with more kindness, with more patience, and with more understanding.
It invites us to treat them as we would like them to treat us.
It reminds us also that God always gives us whatever grace we need, just as God did this for Lenny and for his mother.
This is the Good News in today’s Gospel. This is the Good News we celebrate in this liturgy.
This is the Good News Jesus wants us to take forth from this Church today and share with our brothers and sisters.