How often do you read the details of the contracts that you sign? If you meticulously read the fine prints of the phone contracts you sign or medication or cosmetic products you use, you might think twice about using them. Those fine prints often warn us about the dangers inherent in using those products or services, or the rights that we hand over to the companies and service providers. Lawyers take time to enshrine those fine prints to protect companies from liability for any harm one may experience through using the products and services. They understand that society is too busy with trifles to read such notices.
Similarly, we never read the fine prints of our faith. But unlike the companies that hide the potential harmful effects of their products, Jesus was in no business of inserting a fine print to our faith; He lays out everything clearly in today’s gospel. The early followers of Jesus understood that love for Jesus constituted rejection of self and all that we jealously guard about ourselves. Don’t we often do that for even human beings we love? We lose ourselves for them and give them our heart and most guarded secrets. Though our human lovers may fail us, Jesus’ love is solid and reassuring; hence, He wants no half-hearted response, no half measures, no testing of the waters by dipping one toe in, no following just part of time. It’s all or nothing—a total commitment. No matter how much we’d wish that it isn’t true, that is truly what discipleship means and what Jesus meant in today’s gospel. Call it the fine print of Christianity, if you wish.
What must you hate as a disciple of Christ? The person, the object that would draw you away from Christ. And yes, it could be parents, relatives, and especially friends. Included are books, movies, social and/or political groups, anything you own or can own that would seek to usurp the Christ-principle within you. They’re the things from which you must turn your back as you face Christ. Merely choosing Jesus isn’t enough, nor the end of the story. That choice implicitly stream-rolls into other choices. To say ‘yes’ to Jesus implies saying ‘yes’ to all He is, all He stands for, and all He wants from us and for us. For example, you cannot say ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to His mother or His Church or His command to love in the manner in which He loves. During the persecutions, the early Christians understood that “yes” to Jesus is equivalent to signing a death warrant. I won’t be surprised if we devolve into that in the America of our day.
Choosing Christ also meant for Philemon, whom Paul addressed in today’s second reading, taking back his runaway slave Onesimus, no longer as a slave, rather as a brother in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon that the moment he chose Jesus, he also chose to be a person of mercy, forgiveness, gentleness, humility and love. Above all, in Christ all persons are equal and no one is the slave or master of the other. We all belong to Christ as servants and slaves; hence, no one should put another down, belittle them, and, in a sense, enslave them through chains of superiority. The import of the short letter to Philemon was that Onesimus, whose name means “useful” and who was believed to be the preserver of this letter as the then Bishop of Ephesus, was no longer “useless” as a runaway slave but “useful” through his encounter with Christ.
Finally, choosing Christ means renouncing self, giving up all possessions and embracing the cross. You can tell me, you didn’t plan it that way. If you’ll start this building project or war and wouldn’t want to advance and win, then be prepared for the taunting and jeering of the devil—your greatest enemy, and onlookers who would make a meal of your lack of energy in the fight. But if you’re disposed to be for Christ, that choice implies being in the frontline of the battle with the evil one and the forces of wickedness. You must then carry the banner that says: “Sign me up, I stand for Christ, and I am battle-ready.”
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo