What is it Worth?
Reflections on the readings for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
This reflection originally appeared in The Catholic Post.
Throughout human history, we have decided how much something should cost by comparing it to other things and deciding which to give up. In a bartering system, one person might give a few tomatoes for a pound of meat. In essence, he is saying that, even though his tomatoes are valuable, he would rather have the meat. Our modern economy is essentially the same: When I buy something like a candy bar, I am saying that I would rather have that thing than a piece of paper that says “One Dollar.”
This is the basic economic proposal of the Gospel: Being a disciple of Jesus is more valuable to us than any other possession or relationship. It’s more valuable than being comfortable and avoiding suffering. And it’s even more valuable than life itself. In modern Christianity, we often try to have Jesus and other things. It’s like going through a checkout line at a grocery store and saying to the cashier, “I’d like to take my food with me and hang on to my money.”
But it doesn’t work that way. We have to let go of something to get something else. Lest we look like fools, Jesus tells us to honestly evaluate the cost before buying in to discipleship. There is pain involved in Christianity, but pain chosen for someone else’s sake is just another form of love. When we accept this, we become free to follow Jesus and receive the grace and new life that he offers. St. Therese wrote, “My God, I choose all. I do not want to be a saint by halves. I am not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing — that I should keep my own will. So take it, for I choose all that You will.”
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to hate our family members. Without watering down his meaning, this makes sense when we realize that love of God is infinitely more valuable than love of any creature, including humans. Christian disciples love others for God’s sake, not simply their own. And we end up loving those around us with a stronger, more sacrificial love than we would have if we simply clung to them for their own sakes.
But in modern times, I think we can see that people often have no trouble detaching themselves from family members. Now, discipleship often means having a family rather than giving one up. Young people are often overly cautious, waiting to be financially and emotionally established before marriage. Then, they generally have one or two children, opting for a more comfortable, secure life.
According to the logic of the world, a few more square feet on a house are more valuable than a new human being. But when a couple says “yes” to Christ in the sacrament of marriage, they join a radical, saint-making institution and embrace a new form of discipleship. In big families there is a lot of joy, mixed with pain, all stirred into beautiful chaos. Being generously open to life and love is a cross. Or rather, it’s lots of small daily crosses and mixed with some very big ones. But is it worth it?
A screaming toddler is less comfortable than a quiet movie night, but he is also a human with an immortal soul and a wonderful, unique personality. And he will bring much greater joy into one’s life than a new car. The life that Jesus offers us is worth whatever we pay for it, both in this life and the next. He proves this by giving his life entirely for us on the cross and in the Eucharist.
So as we receive Jesus this Sunday, let’s ask him to give us the grace to embrace the cross, not because we love pain, but so that our pain will be turned into love. Then we will buy into something infinitely valuable.