12th Sunday of the Year Zechariah 12:10–11; Galatians 3:26–29; Luke 9:18–24
Two questions Who is Jesus in relation to us? Who are we in relation to Jesus?
A15-year-old boy and his father were driving past a tiny airport in a small town in Ohio. Suddenly a low-flying plane spun out of control and nose-dived into the runway.
The boy yelled, “Dad! Dad! Stop the car!’’ Minutes later the boy was pulling the pilot out of the plane. It was a 20 year old student flier, who had been practicing takeoffs and landings. The young man died in the boy’s arms.
When the boy got home, he threw his arms around his mother and cried,“Mom, he was my friend! He was only 20!’’ That night the boy was still too shocked to eat supper. He went to his room, closed the door, and lay on his bed.
The boy had been working part-time in a drugstore. Every penny he made he spent on flying lessons. His goal was to get his pilot’s license when he turned 16.
The boy’s parents wondered what effect the tragedy would have on their son. Would he stop taking lessons, or would he continue? They agreed that the decision would have to be his.
Two days later the boy’s mother brought some freshly baked cookies to her son’s room. On his dresser she saw an open notebook. It was one he had kept from childhood. Across the top of the page was written, in big letters, “The Character of Jesus.’’ Beneath was listed a series of qualities: “Jesus was sinless; he was humble; he championed the poor; he was unselfish; he was close to God . . .’’
The mother saw that in her son’s hour of decision he was turning to Jesus for guidance.
Then she turned to her son and said, “What have you decided about flying?’’
The boy looked into his mother’s eyes and said, “Mom, I hope you and Dad will understand, but with God’s help, I must continue to fly.’’
That boy was Neil Armstrong. And on July 20, 1969, he became the first human being to walk on the moon.
Few people who watched that historic event on television knew that one of the reasons Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon was Jesus. They didn’t know that it was from Jesus that he drew strength and guidance to make a crucial teenage decision that was now responsible for his walking on the moon.
Ilike that story because it answers Jesus’ question in today’s gospel Who do you say that I am?’’ in a way that we are not used to hearing it answered.
Young Neil Armstrong didn’t answer the question by saying to Jesus, “You are the Son of God,’’ or “You are the Messiah,’’ or “You are the Second Person of the Trinity.’’ He answered it much more simply. He said:
“You are a sinless person. You are a selfless person. You are a person who cares. You are a person who is close to God.’’ In other words, Neil Armstrong didn’t give a theological answer to the question “Who do you say I am?” He gave a personal answer. He looked into his own heart and described how he experienced Jesus in his personal life.
Each one of us must do the same thing. We must answer Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am?” by looking into our heart and describing how we experience Jesus in our personal life.
And that experience is different for each of us.
For some of us, Jesus is a person we can turn to for guidance in times of confusion. For others, he is someone we can turn to for strength in times of trial. For still others, he is someone who understands us,even when we don’t understand ourselves.
And this bring us to the second half of today’s gospel.
If the first half of the gospel asks the question “How do we experience Jesus?’’ the second half asks the question “How does Jesus experience us?’’
“If anyone wants to come with me,he must . . . take up his cross every day,and follow me.”
These words of Jesus challenge us to ask ourselves, “How does Jesus experience us? Does he experience us as his followers?’’
In other words, do we pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus? Or to put it yet another way a more practical way do we imitate Jesus in our daily life?
Are we for other people what Jesus is for us?
Are we a person to whom others can turn for strength in times of trial?
Are we a person to whom others can turn for guidance in times of confusion?
Are we a person to whom others can turn for help in times of need?
Are we this kind of person, especially to the members of our own family?
In brief, today’s gospel puts before us two important questions.
The first is, How do we experience Jesus? Do we experience him as Neil Armstrong did: as someone who plays an important part in our daily life? Or is Jesus merely someone we think about for an hour on Sunday and forget about the rest of the week?
The second question is even more important. How does Jesus experience us?
Does he experience us as his follower? Or does he merely experience us as his fan?
Are we someone who imitates Jesus? Or are we someone who merely admires him? Do we pick up our cross and follow him daily? Or do we merely sit on the sidelines and applaud him as he carries his cross alone?
These are the two important questions the gospel puts before each one of us today: Who is Jesus in our life? Who are we in Jesus’ life?
No one can answer those questions for us. We must answer them ourselves.
Let’s close with a prayer to Jesus. It was written by an anonymous Christian nearly 1,500 years ago.
“Lord! Be a bright flame before me.Be a guiding star above me. Be a smooth path below me. Be a kindly shepherd behind me. Be these things today tonight and forever.’’ (slightly adapted)
Series II 12th Sunday of the Year Zechariah 12:10–11; Galatians 3:26–29; Luke 9:18–24
Call of Jesus Jesus knew what he was doing when he appealed to the nobility and goodness in our hearts.
In April 1849 a powerful French army was marching toward the city of Rome. The army was so powerful that it destroyed everything in its path. No one thought it could be stopped.
In the face of these great odds, General Garibaldi issued the following proclamation to the able-bodied men of Italy:
“All efforts to stop this powerful army have failed. I have nothing to offer you but hunger and thirst, hardship and death. But I call on all who love their country to join me.’’
From all over Italy, people responded to General Garibaldi’s call poor people, rich people, old people, and young people.
And to everyone’s surprise, that army of volunteers defeated the French.
Years later, in England, something similar happened.
In the early 1900s, Sir Ernest Shackleton needed volunteers to accompany him on a dangerous expedition to the South Pole. He placed the following ad in the London Times:
“Wanted: Persons for dangerous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition if successful.’’
People thought that Shackleton would have difficulty recruiting the 28 volunteers that he needed. To their surprise, he was swamped with over 5,000 applications from all over England.
Shackleton got his crew. And in the months ahead, it did indeed suffer great hardship: arctic storms and polar blizzards. But it succeeded and returned home to honor and recognition.
In today’s gospel Jesus makes a similar call to people.
His call is not to take up arms to defend their homeland from an invader. Nor is it a call to embark on an expedition to the ends of the earth.
Rather, it is a call to people to join him in establishing God’s kingdom on earth. It is a call to people to help him transform the world into the kind of place that God had in mind when God created it.
And like Garibaldi and Shackleton, Jesus tells his followers that the task won’t be easy.
“If you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me. For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake,you will save it.”
And since the day that Jesus spoke those words, millions of men and women have accepted his invitation.
Millions of men and women have joined him to try to make our world into the kind of place that God intended it to be.
And this brings us to an important point.
Today, Jesus is still putting out a call for followers to join him in his work. Today, he is still saying to men and women poor people, rich people, old people, and young people
“If you want to come with me, you must . . . take up your cross every day, and follow me.”
And today, people are still answering Jesus’ call to work for the spread of his Father’s kingdom on earth.
You yourselves are among them. You have not heard Jesus promise you fame, honor, and a life of ease. You have only heard him say:
“If you want to come with me,you must . . . take up your cross every day, and follow me.”
And in spite of this, you have answered the call of Jesus.
This is why we have gathered together here today. This is what we celebrate in this liturgy.
We celebrate the fact that there is in every human heart tremendous goodness and generosity a goodness and generosity that we tend to forget about. We celebrate the fact that when the right person comes along with the right challenge, it strikes a chord in us; and we respond with goodness and generosity.
We celebrate the fact that you and I have heard the call of Jesus and have responded to it.
Jesus knew what he was doing when he asked for volunteers to help him.
He knew that what our world needs most today is not great minds we have plenty of them but great hearts.
He knew that what our world needs most today is not great knowledge we have plenty of that but great dedication.
He knew that what our world needs most today is not great power we have all we need but great faith.
That is why Jesus said, “I don’t point out a light for you to follow. ‘I am the light.’ Based on John 8:12 Pick up your cross and follow me!
“I don’t point out a way for you to travel. ‘I am the way.’ Based on John 14:6 Pick up your cross and follow me!
“I don’t point out a life for you to imitate. ‘I am . . . the life.’ John 11:25 Pick up your cross and follow me!”
This is why we have gathered together here today. This is what we celebrate in this liturgy. Let’s close with these words of Cardinal Duval. They sum up what we have been trying to say.
“No matter how beautifully expressed, abstract ideas rarely move people. But let a person come forward, a living person, capable of speaking to the heart; let truth flow from the person’s life, and let the person’s power be matched by an equal gift of love. Then [my brothers and sisters], the dawn of better days . . . will brighten our skies.’’
This is why we have gathered together here today. This is what we celebrate in this liturgy.
Series III 12th Sunday of the Year Zechariah 12:10–11, 13:1; Galatians 3:26–29; Luke 9:18–24
Take up your cross The pain passes, but the beauty remains.
Jesus said,] “If you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Arthur Gordon wrote a book called A Touch of Wonder. In it, he tells how one day he was conversing with a friend, an elderly psychiatrist, about a problem in his life.
Several times during the conversation he repeated the words “If only I had done this!” or “If only I had not done that!”
Finally, at one point in the conversation, his friend took an audiocassette from a drawer in his desk, put it in a tape player, and said, “Arthur, listen to these brief remarks by three different people, and tell me what they have in common.”
Arthur listened and said, “That’s easy. All three have a problem similar to mine. There is some obstacle in their lives that keeps them from moving forward in a productive way.”
After removing the audiocassette from the tape player and returning it to the drawer of his desk, the elderly psychiatrist said to his friend, “Arthur, there’s only one way to deal with the kind of problem you have described.”
“What is it?” asked Arthur. His friend said, “You must change your focus. Stop looking back to the past with regret. Start looking to the future with resolve.
“Stop wasting your energy brooding over what might have been. Start using that energy to explore possibilities that you never dreamed could still be open to you.”
Helen Keller, who was blind, deaf, and dumb, put it this way:
When one door of happiness closes, another one opens; but we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
That brings us to today’s Gospel. In it, Jesus speaks to those who want to leave the past behind and begin new lives as members of God’s Kingdom.
Like most of us, they have some obstacle in their lives that threatens to keep them from doing this.
Jesus says to them, in effect, “Stop focusing on the price involved in leaving the past behind and following me as members of God’s Kingdom.
“Start focusing on the pearl of great price that you gain by picking up your cross and following me.”
Or to use another image that Jesus used elsewhere, he is saying:
“Stop focusing on the cost of the field you want to purchase, and start focusing on the treasure that will be yours if you purchase it.”
And that brings us to each one of us in this church. How might today’s Gospel apply to our lives right now?
What might Jesus be saying to us, personally? What cross might Jesus be inviting us to pick up daily and follow him?
Might he be inviting us to love again after having had our love rejected in a way that makes us want to seek revenge?
Might he be inviting us to hope again after having had our hopes dashed to the point of despair?
Might Jesus be inviting us to believe again after having had our faith shaken to the brink of having it die?
Might Jesus be inviting us to pick up the pieces and start over again after having had our dreams crushed to the point of wanting to quit?
But how do we leave the past behind, pick up our cross daily, and follow Jesus to a new life in God’s Kingdom?
Consider the story of a man who had every reason not to do this, but decided to do it anyway.
Author Alice Camille first met him in a wheelchair in front of a bookstore. One of his arms lay uselessly and awkwardly in his lap. The other arm was still filled with life and was waving a plastic shopping bag in her direction.
Alice’s first impulse was to pretend not to see him and postpone going to the store until later. But it was too late.
Unable to speak clearly, the man signaled her by signs to reach into his plastic bag and take a look at a couple of cards inside it. She obliged reluctantly but politely.
She hardly believed what she saw. Each card contained a hand-painted reproduction of some well-known work of art.
Unable to speak through words, this smiling, deformed man had found a way to speak through his painting.
Here was a man who might have been at home staring at a wall or TV set, thinking, “If only I hadn’t suffered a stroke 18 years ago.
“If only I were like other people, who have health and endless opportunities at their disposal.” But no!
Unable to speak like other people, he had found a way to speak a message of joy through his paintings.
Alice said she felt like Moses in front of the burning bush, wanting to take off her shoes.
Here was a man “scorched by infirmity and yet not consumed by it.” She said she felt as though she was standing on holy ground. Retold from “Fire Alarm” by Alice Camille in U.S. Catholic (August 2001)
The story of the man in the wheelchair sends a message to each one of us.
It is the message that the same Jesus who invites us to pick up our cross daily and follow him gives us the strength to do it. Saint Paul put it this way in his letter to the Philippians:
I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, . . . I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. Philippians 4:12–13