Our missionary baton Mattthew: 10: 37–42
By Fr Donald Chambers
Today’s gospel excerpts complete the section of Matthews’ testament (10:1–42) commonly referred to as ‘Jesus’ Mission Discourse’. In this segment, there is the naming and commissioning of the Apostles, instructions on facing persecution, fear and the ministry of preaching, and the rewards of discipleship.
The phrase, “. . . take his cross and follow in my footsteps. . .” (Matt 10:39) echoed in my thoughts while I prayed today.
While reflecting on this, the metaphor of a relay from the field of sports came to mind. In a relay, there are four runners, the first of which starts with a baton, hands it over to the second and this continues until each person has taken a turn to run.
The first runner has the awesome responsibility to start strong, as this will motivate the team to follow in his or her footsteps. Furthermore, it is imperative that each runner skilfully receives and passes the baton to have a good chance of winning the race.
In today’s gospel, the disciples of Jesus Christ are instructed to take up their own cross, just as the runner would take up the baton. In this context, the cross is not alluding to Jesus’ crucifixion, rather it signifies self-denial and submission to God’s will.
In a word, the cross is a sacrificial way of life in response to their relationship with Jesus who, by virtue of His selfless life, has given us an example of sacrifice. Therefore, disciples on mission must be willing to suffer just as their Master, Jesus Christ did.
One example of someone who received and lived this ‘baton’ of sacrificial living is the Jesuit priest Alfred Delp. Imprisoned in a concentration camp in World War II for opposing the atrocities towards humanity of the Nazis, Fr Delp writes in his diary, “Whoever doesn’t have the courage to make history is doomed to become its object. We have to take action.”
Through his courageous witness, Fr Delp has skilfully handed over the missionary baton to contemporary Christians, who are challenged to pay the cost of defending the human dignity of everyone, especially the weak and vulnerable, and also for the care of our common home.
Significantly, the word ‘discipline’ relates to the word ‘disciple’. Christian disciples have the discipline needed to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. There are two ways in which disciples can follow in His footsteps. First, disciples are called to enter into an intimate relationship with God as with Jesus. Jesus’ intimate relationship with God empowered Him to call God, “ABBA” (Father), and in turn, He encourages disciples to refer to God as ‘Our Father’. Jesus’ intimacy with His Father was so deep that its expression originated from His gut–the seat of His emotions.
It was from this depth that Jesus cries out from His ‘belly-bottom’ on the cross “My God, My God! Why have you abandoned me?”. Disciples are invited to relate to God with a similar depth of intimacy, a depth that calls for openness, honesty, frankness, and vulnerability.
Second, as a child is conceived and intertwined in a mother’s womb, so too disciples must allow themselves to be intertwined intimately in the womb of people’s lives.
Jesus Christ was so entangled in the lives of the disciples and the people to whom He ministered that He felt every emotion of their existence. Whether it was their joys, sorrows, or griefs, the rawness of the human condition touched Him deeply.
In one instance, for example, “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35). Christian disciples such as the late Jesuit General, Fr Aldofo Nicolas, captures this intimacy in his prayer.
He prays, “We ask that you make yourself present in our lives and in our work, today, tomorrow, and in the future yet to come. Fill with your love these lives of ours, which we put at your service. Take from our hearts the egoism of thinking about what is ‘ours’, what is ‘mine’, always excluding, lacking compassion and joy.”
Throughout history, faithful disciples have received the missionary baton and have handed it on through the witness of their lives. Today’s gospel reminds us to take up our cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus and these courageous disciples.
The gospel meditations for June were by Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica who currently serves as the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference Secretariat, St Clair.