Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily June 28.
I once heard the story of two brothers who lived in Georgia in the 1950s and 1960s. One was very involved in the struggle for Civil Rights and was engaged in a number of courageous acts of civil disobedience — and consequently he found himself in a lot of legal trouble.
The other brother was an attorney practicing in Atlanta who was trying to build up his practice. The activist brother asked his lawyer brother to give him legal help in his unpopular struggle. He said, “Look, you are committed to Christ, aren’t you? Jesus said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me.’” The attorney replied, “Yes, I’m willing to follow Christ to the cross, but I’m not willing to hang on it myself.”
That’s a very instructive story that comes right out of today’s Gospel reading. Why wouldn’t the lawyer brother help his activist brother? They both say they are committed to Christ and so the attorney is presumably a good person and so also presumably in favor of human rights, at least in theory, but he is only committed up to a point. He admires Christ a lot and probably even admires his brother, but he is not willing to be crucified with him.
But you know what, if he’s not willing to go to the cross, he’s really not even a follower of Christ because he’s not going where Christ is going. He’s just an admirer of Christ, not a follower of Christ.
Many of Jesus’ contemporaries admired him without believing in him. And today, many so-called Christians profess faith in Jesus — they can recite all of the theological concepts contained in the Creed — but still without really following Jesus. Faith has touched their mind, but apparently not yet their will. Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “He who will not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me.”
That is the message of today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us that it is not enough for us to be admiring bystanders. He wants us to take up a cross and often this means helping someone else with his or her cross. It is not easy to take up a cross. Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus with his cross on the way to Calvary, but I’m sure he didn’t find it easy.
Each of us must decide what will be the primary allegiance of our life. Most of us who are healthy, not drug addicts or alcoholics, most of us who are healthy choose genuinely worthwhile things as the primary allegiance of our life.
For some of us the primary allegiance is our family, a wonderful thing. We admire people who are committed to their families, and we feel that especially on this weekend when we have just celebrated a wedding, surrounded by family and friends but shockingly, to us, Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Others of us are like the lawyer I spoke of, for whom his career and good reputation were the primary allegiance of his life. Priests and bishops can fall into this trap too. And again, we all admire people who try to live good, moral upstanding lives, but again Jesus shocks us when he says, “He who will not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me.“
What Jesus says is that he must be the primary allegiance of our lives. He’s the only one we really have to please, and sometimes doing the right thing, especially in the face of opposition, can be very challenging.
But anything less is not worthy of him.
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