Commenting on his teaching that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is basically to assert that it is impossible, Jesus offers hope with these words: “…for God all things are possible.”1 Something similar is in play in our readings for today.
I don’t know about you, but I frequently shrink from carrying the cross. Many days I am more intent on finding my life than I am losing it for the sake of Christ in the service of God’s kingdom. Left to my own devices, this is what I instinctively do. In light of this, it’s easy to grow discouraged. But understanding that you cannot save yourself is foundational to being a Christian. I believe we call Jesus “Savior” for a reason. We can find encouragement today in both our first and our second readings.
Because the wealthy woman in our first reading showed such great kindness and generosity to the prophet Elisha, this childless woman was promised and, in due course, gave birth to a child, a healthy son.2 In her act of kindness towards Elisha, she was not thinking of herself. She did not seek to enter into a quid pro quo either directly with God or through the prophet along the lines of “I’ll do something nice for your itinerant servant if you give me a child.”
The woman's unbidden and gratuitous generosity not only shows how a wealthy person might enter but can actually make present God’s kingdom. We see the grace of God at work whenever one person is moved by the plight of another and endeavors to be a neighbor to the one in need.
Okay, you might say, that’s great but how do I overcome myself? If you’re anything like me, this is a perennially relevant question. I have to get through a lot of self before I worry about the devil. But there is good news.
Our response to the good news who is Jesus Christ is faith. Faith is a gift from God. Faith prompts baptism. According to Saint Paul, our rebirth through baptism follows the pattern of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. Paul’s point is eternal life begins now, not after you physically die. The "newness of life" in which the apostle bids the Roman Christians to live is nothing other than life eternal.3
This brings me to the second piece of encouragement: Christ “died to sin once for all.”4 It is because Christ conquered death and sin that by virtue of our baptism we can “think of [ourselves] as [being] dead to sin.”5 Thinking of yourself in this way is how you live “for God in Christ Jesus.”6 The good news in this is that because Christ’s victory is our victory our frequent failure to love is already overcome, not by force but by self-sacrificing love.
Because of what God has done for us in and through Christ, discouragement has no place in the life of a Christian. As we sometimes sing in the memorial acclamation:
Save us, Savior of the world,Because it liberates us from death, the freedom enjoyed by those who are in Christ should be positively construed as freedom for. Jesus has freed us from what constrains us: death and the sin that results from it. In essence, sin shows that we still have what Catholic novelist Walker Percy identified in the title of one of his novels: The Thanatos Syndrome. Thanatos is the Greek word for death. Rather than an exhibition of freedom, as many suppose, sin is a sign that I am not yet free and so not living in newness of life. Again, don’t be discouraged, liberation is usually a slow process of conversion.
for by your cross and resurrection
you have set us free7
True freedom not only empowers you to do good but impels you to love. In a variation on the theme of our second reading, in his second letter to the Christians of ancient Corinth, asserted:
For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised8During the pandemic, the issue of freedom has become an urgent one. Those who insist that freedom lies in doing what you want with little or no regard for the common good misconstrue freedom by putting themselves first. Christ sets you free to love God with your whole being by being a neighbor to others. The sacrifice freedom requires consists of placing the good of the other before your own. This is how you heed Jesus’s summons to take up your cross and “follow after me.”9 Following Christ means grasping paradox: you add by subtracting, you win by losing, you live by dying.
1 Matthew 19:23-26.↩
2 2 Kings 4:17.↩
3 Romans 6:4.↩
4 Romans 6:10.↩
5 Romans 6:11.↩
6 Romans 6:11.↩
7 Roman Missal, Appendix to the Order of Mass, Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation, sec. 6.↩
8 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.↩
9 Matthew 10:38.↩