The Conditions of Discipleship
OPTION 1: A famine was in the land. A beggar on a street corner reached out to the Great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, who was passing by. Tolstoy stopped, searched for a coin but found none. With real sorrow, he said: “Don’t be angry with me, my brother. I have nothing with me.”
The beggar’s face lighted up as he replied: “But you called me brother that is a great gift,” (from: 1000 Stories You Can Use vol. 2 by Frank Mihalic, SVD published 1987 no. 820 p. 135).
All of us know that the basic law of Christianity is the two great commandments of love taught by Jesus, that is: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart…. And you must love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Mk 12-30-31). These commandments are like the two beams that make up a cross. One points upward (loving God) and one points sideward (loving one’s neighbor). A concrete example of loving our neighbor is the one Leo Tolstoy did to a beggar when he called the beggar, “My brother.”
Today’s readings talks about these two great commandments of love. Our first reading (James 2:14-24, 26), St. James says to us that our faith in Jesus is not just a matter of understanding of who He is because devils know Him and believe that God is one. For St. James real faith is expressed in real love by doing concrete acts of charity. Like for example, if there are people in need and we do not help them and we just say, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” what happen to our faith? Our faith “if it does not have works, is dead.”
St. James does say that we are saved by our good works. Rather, we are saved by our faith in Jesus because faith is pure gift coming from God. It is not earned by our good works. But in order for this gift of faith to fully grow in us we must accept the gift with gratitude and act on it. This is to show the connection between our acts of love of neighbor, which St. James emphasizes in today’s first reading, and our love of God, which today’s gospel also emphasizes.
In other words, our first reading emphasizes love of neighbor and today’s gospel centers on our love of God. Jesus tells us that if we wish to be his disciples, by whom we are called, “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” To follow Him means to do as He does. As to what Jesus does, Pondering the Word the Anawim Way (January 8, 2012 to February 21, 2012 pp. 210-211) says: “Jesus emptied Himself completely in love for us. His concern was not for His own advantage, or comfort, or pleasure, or power, or anything else for Himself. His concern was wholly focused on love of the Father and love of each person. That is the love with which He loves us and the love with which He calls us to love the Father and one another.”
But there people who give so much attention to love of God. For them, other people disturb them and keep them away from God. They want to live for God alone and spend their whole praying to God. If we want to ask help from them and do something for us, they just say, “I will pray for you.” This is selfishness; this is wrong.
On the other hand, there are also people who focus so much on the love of neighbor. One hundred percent, they get involve themselves in helping other people like: the sick, the poor, the lonely, the people with problems, the oppressed. They work all day and half night. They are so busy helping and working for people to the extent that they don’t have time to pray. For them: “My work is my prayer.”
But this is half-truth because we cannot do God’s work without God. A certain saint said: “We should fold our hands in prayer in Church, and then we should open our hands to others outside of the Church.” Someone said also that we cannot love God without loving people. We cannot love people without loving God.
At the end, do we put our faith into practice?
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