The gospel reading today narrates that when Jesus called His first apostles, they left everything to follow Him. Discipleship seems very easy, like a walk in the park, but is it?
Responding to God’s call always entails suffering. And perhaps, the greatest suffering we have to endure is being intimately familiar with the dark side of our humanity—our faults and defects. The closer we get to Jesus, the more we become aware of our weaknesses.
St. Paul himself, the greatest preacher of all time, admitted that he had a weakness that he could not overcome. So he pleaded with Jesus to take it away from him. But Jesus replied: “My grace is sufficient for you. For, my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).”
Jesus had that similar experience, too. At His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Him and God’s voice was heard saying that Jesus was His beloved Son (Matthew 3:17). But immediately after that, the same Spirit led Jesus to the desert where He had to experience what it meant to be a human being—vulnerable to temptation and all forms of physical and emotional deprivations (Matthew 4:11). On Mount Tabor, Jesus was wondrously transfigured (Matthew 17:2). But after that glorious event, He had to contend with betrayal, abandonment, and death on the cross.
It is the same with all of us. If we want to be faithful followers of Jesus, we have to prepare ourselves for suffering, sacrifice, and endless temptations. And beware, the devil no longer tempts us to commit sin because he knows we can do that without his help. The devil now lures us to feel virtuous, holy, and morally superior to others. He makes us want to be loved, adored, and even worshipped. He tempts us to settle for the easy, convenient, and comfortable life until we become prisoners of privilege and a sense of entitlement.
Following Jesus and being faithful to Him will surely have a reward. But it does not consist of abundant material possessions. The reward Jesus offers is simply this: a loving and satisfying relationship with God whose generosity is boundless.
Following Jesus means, in the first place, not leaving behind this thing or that person, but establishing a relationship with the God who enriches even the very human ties that bind us to special people. This relationship relativizes the absolute value which we put on wealth, power, and prestige.
Fulton Sheen once wrote that there are two kinds of Christians: those who adore a cross-less Christ and those who follow a Christ-less cross. If we are to be true Christians and authentic followers of Christ, we must take both Jesus and His cross as inseparable. Without Jesus, suffering is meaningless. Without the cross, Christianity is like a boneless bangus—pleasure without pain, sunshine without rain.
What human guarantee do we have that we will remain true to our calling? The answer is NONE. Even the strongest resolve or commitment weakens in time. Only a deep awareness of Christ’s abiding presence and love can make a person persevere in his vocation until the end.
I remember one beautiful song that goes: “When Christ is allowed to enter our lives every storm becomes a calm, the tumult becomes peace, what cannot be done is done, the unbearable becomes bearable, and we pass the breaking point without breaking. For to walk with Christ is to conquer the storm.”