•2 Kings 4: 812, 14-17l; Romans 6” 3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10: 37-42•
This coming Friday is “the 4th of July. On that date in 1776 our political ancestors established “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” at the center of America’s civic religion. We still cherish these “inalienable rights” and will genuflect slightly toward them between our picnics, float trips, parades and fireworks.
Most of us realize we are citizens of a social-political-economic system that is far more complex than the one established by our political ancestors. I invite you to consider some of the positive and negative characteristics of our nation.
There is so much that is positive and for which we are rightly proud! “Today many of our fellow citizens use their freedom to do many worthy things. Some read, write, paint, sculpt, compose and play music. Others build, restore, preserve, worship and tithe. Others attend plays, concerts and sporting events. Many others tend to the needs of the less fortunate.”
There also are some negative characteristics. These endanger our “inalienable rights.” Since our nation’s founding, Jefferson’s triad of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” morphed into “a relentless quest to acquire and consume.” We are no longer able to meet our spiraling consumer demand and long ago became a people dependent on others for natural resources and manufactured products. To assure that our national “wants” are satisfied we depend upon our ships, planes and soldiers spread around the globe. We spend billions to protect our compulsions and call it “national defense.”
Now you may be asking, “what does that have to do with our gospel text today?” Good question!
The historical Jesus was aware of the sickness, loneliness, poverty, despair, and guilt that
burdened people. He stood against injustice and sought to eliminate the causes of such suffering. In other words, Jesus was a promoter of the “inalienable rights” of everyone! He never condemned people but cured them. He looked at the world with tender compassion and alleviated suffering. He awakened hope and enabled people to be human and to live humanly with one another.
Today we heard Matthew tell us, “Jesus called the twelve to him and sent them out” with words of encouragement and caution. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Certainly he understood that as parents you are responsible to keep your sons and daughters fed, healthy and educated. However pampering your children’s fantasies of accumulation and self-gratification is not loving them! It seems to me that such pampering endangers those “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” treasured by all of us.
Matthew’s Jesus speaks metaphorically when he says, “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” We become fully human only as we develop our ability to love others without condition. Such love is costly. It got Jesus crucified! The Gospel is not a feel-good sedative. If we imitate the Risen One and work to eliminate the causes of suffering, we better “be prepared for rejection.” Matthew’s Jesus is telling us, “What happened to me will happen to you.”
The good news is that the positive consequences of imitating Christ are far greater than the
negative. When we love without condition “nothing will go unrewarded.” “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” “The cup of cold water that we give to one of these little ones will not go unrewarded.” Jesus made it clear to his companions, “I have come that you might have life, abundance of life.”
The 4th of July is a good time to remember that our freedom and liberty make it possible for us to love without condition! Such love means promoting the “inalienable rights” of all people. When we imitate the love of Christ, our own life will be full and we will know life is worth living.