In today's First Reading, the Prophet Jeremiah finds himself thrown into a well for speaking God's word to the people of his day. The military leaders were embarking on an ill-advised campaign against the Babylonians. Jeremiah warns against it and tells the people of Jerusalem to flee the city. To shut him up, he was thrown into an old cistern where he would die of starvation. As he awaited death, he reflected on the cost of being a prophet - of speaking God's word to a people who did not want to hear that word. Fortunately for Jeremiah, the King was persuaded to intervene and Jeremiah was rescued from the cistern and placed under house arrest. Fast forward and the Babylonians attack and conquer Jerusalem. If l were Jeremiah, I would have said, "I told you so." But Jeremiah was a holy man and he probably didn't say anything. As he reflected on his life, he knew that the God who called him from his youth to be a prophet had not promised him a rose garden.
In today's second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tries to encourage early Christians who were struggling to live their new faith. Unlimited forgiveness, turning the other cheek, loving one's enemy, going the extra mile, forsaking fornication and adultery may all sound fine in theory, but this new way that Jesus proposes was not so easy to put in practice. That was the experience of early Christians and it is our experience today. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, as a good life coach, tells the people of his day- and us - to 'suck it up.' "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood." In other words, Jesus who calls us to follow him did not promise us a rose garden.
That same theme continues in today's Gospel. Jesus warns that discipleship comes at a great cost. It may set a father against son and a mother against daughter. Many of the early Christians who read these words knew firsthand the consequences of following Jesus to which he refers in the Gospel.
Once a person became a Christian the person could no longer join the rest of the family in pagan worship and the great state events that included, among other things, worship of the emperor.
Once a person became a Christian that person could no longer join family and friends at the coliseum where crowds would gleefully cheer on two slaves as they would battle to the death as gladiators.
Once a person became a Christian that person could no longer pass by a newborn baby left outside in the elements to die by exposure or to be eaten by animals in the accepted form of infanticide of Roman times.
Once a person became a Christian that person could no longer join friends in the orgies and the other immoral activities that became increasingly characteristic of Rome in its declining years.
Once a person became a Christian that person had to put Christ at the center of his or her life over the ties of family, friendship and state.
And that decision, as Jesus tells us in today's Gospel, can bring division. That decision to follow Jesus, then and now, comes at a price. In the controversies surrounding us as a Church and a society today, we experience some of the divisions that following Jesus can bring.
The words that Jesus speaks in today's Gospel are not words that I want to hear. I don't want to hear that choosing Jesus will put my life at odds with those around me. I don't want to hear that choosing Christ will lead to persecution and mockery. I don't want to hear that choosing Christ will lead to confrontation. I don't want to hear that God doesn't promise us a rose garden.
Christianity is not a theory. It is not an ideology. Christianity is about a person and that person is Jesus Christ, who claims to be the Son of God. Either Jesus is who he says he is, or he is not. If he is the Son of God, his voice is the definitive voice in my life and determines how I live my life. If he is not the Son of God, his voice is simply one among many voices in my life. Disciples believe that Jesus is who he says he is and discipleship is about being conformed, day by day, to the image and likeness of Jesus. It is a lifelong journey of purification and conversion. It is a journey of falling and getting back up again. It is continually seeking the will of God in all things and being conformed to that will. In the central mystery of
salvation, the invisible, immortal God came down from heaven, took on flesh and became one like us so that we, in turn, could become one like him.
In the last decades our society and our culture have gotten it backwards. We have tried to re-create God in our own image and likeness. And we have been so successful that the God of our invention is as small, as limited and as confused as we are. And if God is as small, as limited and as confused as we are, we no longer have need of God. The devastating consequences of recreating God in our image and likeness are all around us and growing each day.
In every age Jesus calls his disciples to march to a very different drummer. And marching to a different drummer will put us at odds with society and a good part of the cultural elite and perhaps, even our families.
Marching to a different drummer means that we will not only know the Ten Commandments, but teach them to our children and meditate on them day and night.
Marching to a different drummer means that Sunday soccer matches or football games or shopping sprees or anything else will never replace Sunday Mass.
Marching to a different drummer means that our homes will be places of prayer where pray as a family.
Marching to a different drummer means that we will not be ashamed to pray before a meal in a restaurant.
Marching to a different drummer means that our bible is not hidden away in a bookcase somewhere, but sitting on the coffee table where it is often opened and consulted and enjoyed.
Marching to a different drummer means that we will ask God to weigh in on the important social and moral issues facing us in our day before we make any decisions.
Marching to a different drummer means that there are movies we choose not to watch, music we choose not to listen to, websites we choose not to visit and jokes we choose not to repeat.
Marching to a different drummer will mean the language we use and the way in which we deal with confrontation will be respectful.
Marching to a different drummer means that we will not only accept, but embrace, the cost of discipleship, for the One who tells us that following him will be a cause of division, also tells us that the gate that leads to eternal life is narrow and not well traveled. The gate that leads to destruction, on the other hand, is wide and many are those who choose it.
I think of the closing lines of Robert Frost's poem, "The Road not Taken." "Two roads diverged in a woods and I - I, took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference." Jesus is inviting us to choose the road less travelled warning us that choosing that road may well put us at odds with the world around us.
As I look out at the world today and especially the society in which we live, maybe, just maybe, marching to a different drummer, no matter what the cost, might not be such a bad idea after all!