In his Gospel reflection for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Garry Koch speaks of discipleship and all who choose to "carry their cross in hostile lands." Photo from Freepik.com
In his Gospel reflection for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Garry Koch speaks of discipleship and all who choose to "carry their cross in hostile lands." Photo from Freepik.com
Gospel Reflection for June 28, 2020, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Dec. 20, 2015, Salah Farah was in a bus heading for Mandera, a town in northern Kenya. While en route, the bus was attacked by a known terrorist group. The group generally separates passengers by faith, sparing those who are able to recite a passage in the Q’uran from those who cannot. Those who do not know the passage are then shot. On the bus on which Farah was a passenger, female Muslim passengers gave their hajibs to the non-Muslims riders. When Farah and other passengers refused to be separated, multiple passengers were shot. Two were killed and Farah was gravely injured. Farah died of his injuries a month later. He was posthumously awarded the “Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya” medal for his valor in protecting the Christians.

What would cause these men and women to act to protect strangers with their own lives? Surely they were traveling peaceably together on the bus and the war of the terrorists was not their war. Previous bus attacks that had occurred did not end the same way, with countless Christians being separated and shot over the course of the conflict.

It took a great deal of courage for a Christian to ride a bus. Perhaps some memorized passages from the Q’uran to stand as protection against assault, but clearly many did not. It took more than courage for the passengers on this particular bus to act the way that they did. Certainly no one broke ranks, no one favored his or her own safety over the safety of the whole.

The world of Jesus was characterized by what was called the Pax Romana. This was, however, a tense and forced peace, not a peace that developed organically. The peace was unsettling. The Jews, especially in Jerusalem, knew that the Romans could disrupt their way of life at any time. Indeed, Jesus lives just 40 years before Jerusalem and its temple would exist no longer.

Jesus knew that he was sending his disciples out as ambassadors to a hostile world. Yes, some, like Farah and untold millions over the generations, are willing to sacrifice their lives and their own status for the sake of the Christians in their midst even though they are not themselves Christians. We saw that same kind of sacrifice for the sake of the other during the atrocities in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in the past century.

It is the challenge of discipleship in a hostile world that provides a backdrop for the seemingly harsh warning from Jesus in the Gospel this Sunday. Jesus said: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Jesus warned his disciples that if love for him and for the Gospel they were sent to proclaim was not primary, then they were not worthy of him. If they loved their families more; if they loved the comfort of their lives more; if they loved their very lives more; then they would be more inclined to flee in the face of danger instead of “carrying their cross” to its bitter – yet glorious – end.

The challenge sounds harsh to us. The idea of hating is contrary to who we are, and seems contrary to the overall message of Jesus. As he does on so many occasions, Jesus uses shock language to make a simple point – discipleship and faithfulness is first. This is the “narrow path” of which he speaks elsewhere in the Gospel. This is giving up all for the sake of the Kingdom. It is not, and will not be easy. Many are unable to do so. The lure of wealth, popularity and the comforts of life make discipleship all the more difficult.

But Jesus also knew that there would be those – like Farah – who were willing to take risks to protect his disciples. Theirs is a vicarious discipleship. They share in the promise of Christ not because they chose a Baptism by water, but rather they chose the Baptism of blood.

Let us continue to pray for all those who carry their cross in hostile lands, and pray also that others like Farah, will bear witness to the faith around them, even when it is not their own.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.