Friends, if you remember last week’s Gospel in which Deacon preached about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be a disciple. Perhaps the last verse will jog your memory, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God”. In other words, to be a disciple, to truly follow Jesus we cannot be look back to what we left behind, but we must have eyes and hearts looking forward to where Jesus leads us. I bring last week’s Gospel up because today’s Gospel and the sending of the 72 others comes immediately after that verse. However, what I want to do today, is to continue the theme began last week about what it means to follow Jesus by highlighting perhaps the greatest example for us in St Paul, and unpacking a few but powerful verses of his writing in today’s 2nd reading.
St Paul is the first witness and teacher about what Christianity and Discipleship is all about. Keep in mind also, that before Paul became perhaps the greatest evangelist the Church and world has ever known, Paul was Saul- a devout Jew who persecuted the Church Christ established. So, if there is hope for a man like Saul, there is hope for you and I, and every lost soul we pray for.
St. Paul in our 2nd reading to the Galatians begins, “Brothers and sisters: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. For us, 2000 years after Christianity began, the cross is something somewhat common, we look upon the cross every Sunday we come into a Church and perhaps wear one around our neck. But to understand Paul’s puzzling words, I invite you first to think not of the cross that we know it as; but think as a 1st century Jew. The cross was, in Paul’s time, something unspeakable. The most miserable instrument of torture ever demised by the minds of cruel people. The cross was for Jews and Gentiles both, entirely shameful. The most shameful thing someone can say about another person was that he ended his life on a cross. The cross was the last thing anyone would ever boast of. Yet, St. Paul says that he only boasts in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. You see, what St. Paul is doing is inviting us into the upside world of the Christian faith. Christianity, and living as a true disciple of Christ, turns the values of the world upside down, it reverses the expectations of the world.
Paul continues in the next verse to explain why he boasts in nothing but the cross of Christ, because the cross is ‘through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world”. The world has been crucified to me and I to the world. Now when Paul uses the word ‘world’, he is not saying the whole physical universe we live in is bad, indeed Paul has a love of creation as He does the Creator. Paul means by the ‘world’, a negative connotation, he means all the powers of sin, division, of hatred, that serves to structure the society that we know and in which we live; all of those forces of division and hatred contributed to the death of Jesus. Therefore, Paul is saying we must never lose sight of the life-changing importance of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Yes, the world killed Jesus, the forces of division and hatred killed Jesus, but God raised him up. The Risen Jesus in his glorious body appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and that appearance forever changed how Saul saw everything, including how he saw the world. In light of God’s all-encompassing power, everything changes. God raised Jesus from the dead, and that means that all the forces that contributed to the death of Jesus is under God’s control and under His judgement. It means all the sin and division, and hatred in the world, all the so-called pleasures of the world, all the entertainment, all the things of the world, in the end, are all trivial. That world, the world that Saul used to be a part of, used to find his delight in, used to thrive in, is passing away, it means nothing. The resurrection of Jesus means, for Paul and all who are crucified to the world, that the powers of the world are finally powerless- that sin and hatred does not have power over us- that is, if we, like Paul, are crucified to the world. All the negatively of sin was taken on by Christ on the cross, and the resurrection took that sin away. Our sin is taken away if we are crucified to the world. That is what we do in every Mass- after all, we celebrate- “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.
Thus, what follows from this truth, is Paul’s next verse, which again speaks of Paul’s complete conversion and transformation: “for neither does circumcision mean anything, nor uncircumcision, but only a new creation”. Again, keep in mind those must have been earth-shattering words for the 1st century Jews, the life that Paul used to live, for circumcision was that which was most important for the Jews. Circumcision was what connected the chosen people to God and what separated them from the unbelieving pagan Gentiles. For the Jews, circumcision was the mark which identified one as belonging and believing in God. To make Paul’s point hit home for us, we can think of baptism- listen to these striking words- to be baptized means nothing. Just having water poured over you when you were a baby means nothing. This is what Paul is saying. He has realized that circumcision or uncircumcision, whether baptized or not, means nothing, the only thing that matters is becoming a new creation. Indeed, the entire truth of Christianity can be summed up on that tiny phrase- becoming a new creation in Christ. And so, the action of the circumcision, or of the baptism in our case, mean nothing, that is, the action many years ago mean nothing if the effects are not being lived today. Let me slow down and make sure you hear me. Those actions of baptism, confirmation, other sacraments, of the past mean nothing if we are not crucified to the world and have become a new creation. Yes, the sacraments provide grace, but we must be open to receive it. Paul says elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ, I myself no longer live but Christ lives in me. I am a new creation the old is gone, the new has come”. Paul is testifying to something much more impactful than a simple action so long ago, He is testifying to the true power behind the action. He is testifying to a power so transformative that it has turned his life upside down. Again, Paul is referring to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, through whom; He has become a new creation, and in which Paul lived as a true disciple.
And so my brothers and sisters, I ask you, as I ask myself- do you, like St. Paul boast in nothing but the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Do you realize that the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the only source of your happiness, indeed, the only source of your life, and life eternal? Have you been crucified to the world, have you nailed all your sins, the causes of division and hatred, and have they become overcome by the power of the cross of Christ? Have you become a new creation in Christ? Are the effects of the new life which baptism gives you present in you today, are you living the new life in Christ today? Have you let the power of the Resurrection turn your world upside down? Friends, if we are not striving with all our hearts for this new life, then we are not the follower of Christ, we are not the disciple, we are meant to be. So, let us give ourselves more completely to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ made present in this Mass, and let its power continue our transformation to perfect completion.BACK TO LIST