The Presentation of the Lord – February 2, 2020
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
One of the things that I often encounter is a strange “gospel” message. This is the message: “If you follow God, your life will be easier, your life will be better, you will no longer have problems. God loves you, and when you follow him your life will get better.” One thing I hear a lot is: “Father, I want my kids to have a good life, to be happy.” And that is great! But, what they usually mean is, “Father, I want my child to have a good job, and a nice house, and to be a good person, and not to suffer.”
Something I hear a lot is how we discourage one another from suffering. We try to help each other find the easy path. Parents: every day I see you trying to help your children have everything they want in life. You try to help them avoid suffering. You tell them they have to go to school so they can get a better job than you have, so they can make money, so they can have a family, so they can have a good life. You tell them to travel, to see the world, not to make commitments, not to give their life to someone or something, to be free and do what they like. You tell them that life is about them, and they need to do whatever makes them happy. And of course! We want the best for our kids! But have you ever read scripture? Have you ever listened to what Jesus said? Have you ever read St. Paul or St. Peter?
Please, show me the passage where Jesus told his followers that life would be easy. When did Jesus tell his followers, “When you follow me, life will become easier?” Did Jesus say, “When you follow me, you will no longer suffer, and everyone will like you?” Did Jesus say, “If you love me and follow me, all of your wishes will come true?”
So why do we think that? Why do we think our life should be easier and that we shouldn’t suffer if we follow Jesus and keep his commandments and pray and so on?
This second reading is powerful. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews says, “He [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way.…he himself was tested through what he suffered” (Hebrews 2:14 & 18). Jesus became like us in every way. He became like us, he became human, and he truly entered into the human condition. And even though Mary and Joseph tried to protect him and give him a good life and everything…he suffered. And if Christ suffered, why do we think it will be different for us? Simeon tells Mary—Mary! The Mother of God! The most holy virgin Mary! Jesus’ beloved Mother!—Simeon tells Mary in our Gospel, “You yourself a sword will pierce” (Luke 2:35). A sword will pierce her heart! Mary will suffer! Mary, the first disciple of Jesus, the first Christian, the only human without sin—even Mary will suffer.
I am not saying: we should try to suffer more, or, we should do things that make us suffer. No.
But I am saying that if we follow Christ, he promises us that we will suffer. In every book of the New Testament, we are told that following Christ means that we will suffer. In Matthew, Jesus says:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matthew 10:34-35)
For the followers of Jesus, their families will be in conflict, parents and children will argue, there will be suffering—all because you follow Jesus. In Mark, Jesus tells us:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:34-36)
Deny yourself, deny yourself the things you want, deny yourself the life you want? Pick up a cross, embrace suffering? Did Jesus really mean that? Jesus says, “If you save your life, if you do all of these things to make sure you have a good life, if you spend your time making sure you have a good job and nice things and a good reputation—you’ll just end up losing your life. You may gain the whole world! But what good is that if you forfeit your life in the process. In Luke, Jesus says:
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)
Jesus says here that people will hate you, exclude you, make fun of you! How many people hate you because you follow Jesus? How many people do you know that hate you? Or does everyone you know speak well of you? Do they all think you are wonderful? Because if everyone likes you, something is wrong. Even Mother Theresa had people that hated her. And you? How many people hate you because you follow Jesus? But Jesus say, “Rejoice when they do!” In John, Jesus says:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
The world is going to hate you if you follow Jesus. People will hate you. But it doesn’t have to be that way! If you are “of the world,” if you are part of the world and do everything that everyone else does; if you think the way everyone else thinks and listen to the same music as everyone else, and have the same cars, and have the same clothes; if you believe that people can do what they want, that some things aren’t bad, if you say, “Well, everyone else is doing it”—if you are “of the world,” then the world won’t hate you! But if we’re followers of Christ, if we’re Christians, then the world may hate us.
And it goes on and on in every book of the New Testament about how the followers of Christ suffered! Where is this message of, “If I follow Jesus, everything will be easier and my life will be better?” Don’t get me wrong: the New Testament also tells us of the great joy the Christians have, early documents tell us that everyone could pick out the Christians because they were so joyful. But that was because they followed Christ.
Usually, we don’t “lose our life.” Usually, we are always finding ways to preserve it. And I’m talking about myself too. You might think, “Father, you left everything and became a priest.” But even I struggle with this. Even I try to preserve my life. Even I try to avoid losing my entire life for Christ. I cling to many things trying to avoid suffering.
Time and time again, Jesus never tells people: “Try to get a good career. Help your children to have a good life with a good job.” No. Jesus says, “Follow me.” And Jesus seems to think that this might involve a little bit of suffering. A good life might involve denying what you want, what you want to do, and instead following him. Maybe you had a dream your whole life of doing something, of a job, of a car, of traveling the world. But maybe Jesus is saying, “No, just follow me. I will take care of the rest.”
What is my point? We all look for ways to avoid suffering. We think that our goal in life is to be happy, to not worry. We talk to our children more about their future and their job than we do about following Jesus, seeking God’s will in our life, embracing the suffering from our decision to follow him. Sometimes we even discourage our children from following Jesus!
Jesus promises us that in following him, we will receive everything. Maybe we should start encouraging our children to give it all up and instead to seek Christ, trust that Christ will take care of them. Maybe the saying we should think about the most is, “Every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my [Jesus’] sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Maybe embracing our suffering, just like Jesus taught us, is that path to the happiness and the joy we are looking for in every place but there.