June 27, 2010
No Dual Citizenship
Two women met again forty years after their high school graduation. The first one shared her story. “I have married the best husband in the world. And now we still live happily together.” “Oh, how boring,” said her friend. “For me, I have fulfilled my wish in life. I married four wonderful men.” She explained, “My first marriage was to a millionaire; my second marriage was to an actor; my third marriage was to a preacher; and now I’m married to an undertaker.” Her friend was confused. “I don’t understand. Why do you have to marry four men?” She replied, “Well, it is just part of my overall plan in life. One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go.” (It looks like she is always wearing her blue suede shoes!)
The entire life of Jesus, from his birth to his death on the cross, is according to the overall plan of God for the salvation of the world. That is why, in the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” He goes to Jerusalem, not as a tourist or visitor. He is going there solely to accomplish the plan of the Father. It is there that that he will undergo sufferings and death and offer his life for the salvation of mankind. His obedience to the heavenly Father is absolute and immutable. No one can change his decision to follow his Father’s will, not the hostility of the Samaritans, and not even the objections of Peter and the pleadings of his disciples.
The action of Jesus was a strong lesson for all his followers. Obedience to the will of God is prompt, absolute and non-negotiable. In the Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to imitate his example. He invites everyone to follow him. But following him is not that simple and easy. He clarified three important points in order to avoid any false expectation.
First, there is no guarantee of economic or material reward. He said, “Foxes have dens, birds in the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” For those who want to follow Jesus with economic reward and material comfort in mind, they are bound to be frustrated. The example of Jesus himself shows it. He is the King of kings, the true Son of God. But he was born in a manger, he grew up in a carpenter’s shop, and died on the cross with everything – clothes and dignity – stripped away. Expecting or asking for something that Jesus never even had is rather absurd. Instead, Jesus demands from his followers total dependence and trust in God. That is why when he sent his disciples on mission, he instructed them: “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts, no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick” (Mt 10:9-10). It is an invitation to withdraw our trust in material things and to fully trust in God.
Second, following Jesus is not an insurance to a safe and risk-free life. “I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves,” he told his disciples. That is why, in the Gospel this Sunday, he said, “Let the dead bury their dead.” This may be a harsh statement, but he does not mean any disrespect for the dead. He may be implying that anybody or anything that hinders or blocks one from following Jesus should be considered dead. In other words, this is what St. Paul declared: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
Third, following Jesus is not a walk in the park. It is full of difficulties and challenges, and the follower must focus his full attention and energy on the task and mission on hand. Jesus used an illustration in farming: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” In another place, he said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Lk 13:24). Following Jesus is a constant struggle and hard work, but it is all worth it. As a quotation says, “God promises, not a calm passage, but a safe landing.”
Let us now ask ourselves: Are we still willing to follow Jesus? What, then, is our overall plan in life? Is following Jesus part of that plan? Many of us are now thinking of a comfortable retirement after many years of labor and sacrifices. There is nothing wrong with that. But is that what God has in mind for us? Jesus revealed God’s plan: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:40).
God’s plan for us, therefore, goes infinitely beyond our retirement plans. He wants us to be with Him in heaven for we are His children. Indeed, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). But we can become full-pledged citizens of heaven only if we follow Jesus all the way.
A Filipino has lived in the U.S. for many years, but he has not succeeded in legalizing his status. On his 60th birthday, he announced to his wife and children: “At last, now I’ve got my dual citizenship!” They were surprised and asked, “How come you have dual citizenship and you do not even have a green card yet?” He replied, “I am a Filipino citizen, and now, at 60, I am also senior citizen!”
As Christians, we are reminded that we cannot have dual citizenship. We have only one citizenship, and that is in heaven. St. Paul reminds us: “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). Let our thoughts, words and behavior be in accordance with this most sublime dignity and calling.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002