the successful disciple

Sep 6, 2013

three years on

During this past week we marked the third anniversary of the 4 September 2010 earthquake. Since that date we have experienced well over 13.000 quakes. It has been a long three years for all of us. So many of us, with family and friends, continue to struggle with the loss of homes, businesses and livelihoods. Too many of Cantabrians remain without secure homes awaiting insurance settlements while considering limited options.

New Zealand had always been the place where land ownership was viewed as the most secure investment. Our families worked hard for their quarter-acre sections near shops and schools. In rural areas we have worked more intimately with the land cultivating, sowing and harvesting. 

But the farming people of our country know too that simply owning land is no guarantee of prosperity. While a good year can bring a rich harvest, Very often rain, storms and droughts can just as often threaten to bankrupt the farmer.

The earthquakes have reminded city landowners that the simple ownership of land cannot guarantee security. Think of the effects of liquefaction rendering entire suburbs now permanently uninhabitable.

The initial response to the earthquakes, and particularly to the deadly February 22 quake, was remarkable in our city. WIthin hours communities had rallied to provide food and shelter to those in need. Money was freely given. Neighbours opened their homes, and their bathrooms. to those in need. The real response of Cantabrians was not so much from the traditional helping institutions (who certainly did their share), but from those who crossed the fences between properties to help neighbours who until that moment may have been strangers. “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata!” He tangata! (What is the most important thing in the world?  It is people! It is people! It is people!)

it is not just us…

In the midst of personal suffering, healthy people also become more aware of the sufferings of others. How often the family gathered at the hospital bedside of the sick child, develop significant friendship with other parents in the ward. Suffering also shifts our gaze beyond our neighbourhood and city to those who are the victims of natural disasters and war in other parts of the world.

In these days our thoughts and prayers are especially with the people of Syria, where violence and bloodshed has been their pattern of life and death for more than two years. The United Nations reports that over 100.000 civilians have lost their lives in that time.

In recent days this tragedy has threatened to become a global war. We are slow learners when it comes to war and peace. We know from the history of last 100 years that true peace can never be achieved be achieved by violence, or even by the threat of violence. Yes Syria has chemical weapons, but only because Israel has nuclear arms. And Israel has stockpiled nuclear weapons because the United States…

…and so the pattern of violence continues. 

wisdom from the scriptures

It is in the context of these local and world events that we turn to today’s scripture readings. There are many verses in these readings worthy of their own homily. In the gospel we hear Jesus reminding us that:

“anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

and at the end of the same readings:

“So, in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.”

We will pray the psalm together

“O Lord, you have been our refuge, from one generation to the next”.

The first reading directs us to wisdom:

Who indeed can know the intentions of God! Who can divine the will of the Lord? The reasonings of mortals are unsure and our intentions unstable.

Perhaps it is not difficult to relate to each of these verses. How often our intentions and motivations feel even more unstable than the ground we walk on. How often our intentions and motivations feel even more unstable than the earthquaked-ground we walk and build on. Too often we find that our behavour and our responses are little more than the impulsive and compulsive reactions to the unhealthy behaviour of others. Maybe we don’t even take a moment to discern the will of the Lord? Our words and actions are driven by so many attachments, and we defend our personal possessions with military-like methods.

there is another way

Thanks be to God, Christians have been given another way of living through life’s instability and conflict. The one who turns to Christ, with total abandonment, will find refuge. We see this in our ancestors in faith who “from one generation to the next” knew that the most important thing was to live in relationship with Jesus. It is only in this divine embrace that we avoid being trampled under by daily demands. Even when under attack from our enemies, the Lord is our only refuge.

And this confidence brings us to the heart of our faith. The true follower of Christ is the one who in every moment takes up the cross and follows. The life of the successful disciple is not measured by an absence of suffering and conflict. These realities are as inevitable for us as they were real for Jesus.

The disciple of Jesus finds joy not in simple avoidance of pain and tension, but in remaining in intimate relationship with Jesus in the midst of every challenge and demand of daily life.


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