Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor – Readings

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:1-10; Psalm 36; Luke 14:25-33

The memorial Gospel reading is from Luke. We are told that large crowds were following Jesus. We might say that there were two kinds of people who were attracted by him. The first were those who were in genuine need – those who were sick in one way or another, those who were disabled (the blind, the disabled), those whose lives were governed by forces they could not control, those who were ostracised (like lepers or people with bleeding problems), those who were poor, and those who were rejected as sinners and outcasts, such as tax collectors and prostitutes.

But there was another group who followed Jesus the way ‘groupies’ run after movie or sports stars, just to see them or be near them. Jesus was a ‘superstar’. He had a reputation for performing miraculous cures and people wanted to see them happening. This group really had no interest in what Jesus was teaching. It is to these that Jesus seems to be speaking in today’s reading.

As the crowds gathered round him, he told them:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

Among people for whom the family unit had first priority, these were harsh words and would certainly make them stop in their tracks. Jesus was being perfectly clear – anyone who wanted to be his disciple had to put Jesus before everything and everyone else. There could be no compromise:

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus is not asking us to carry his cross – that was an experience unique to him. But he does ask us to carry the crosses that will come into our own lives, crosses which will be the result of our following him.

So he tells the crowds that, if they want to be really with him, they should be clear about what it entails. And then he gives two examples of what he means. If a builder wants to put up a large building, he needs to sit down and calculate if he can bring it to completion. If he fails half way through, he will become a laughing stock to his peers. Similarly, if a king is going to make war on another king, it would be wise to sit down and see if his forces are capable of winning. If not, it might be better to come to terms with his enemy and make a deal.

Jesus concludes by telling the people that no one can be truly a disciple of Jesus unless he or she is ready unconditionally to let go of everything he has. That is the bottom line and how many of us have taken it seriously?

One person who did take it seriously was John of the Cross. Few people will be asked to carry the kind of crosses he bore during life, and most of these crosses came from his own brothers in the religious community. Such experience could have turned him – as it might other people – into a cynical and embittered person full of hate for others. On the contrary, it turned him into a person who saw the futility of hate, and who was renowned for his being filled with the love of God, a love which eagerly shared with others. We might ask him today to help us be that kind of person.

In the First Reading, from the First Letter to the Corinthians,+ Paul speaks about his preaching and about the nature of true wisdom.

When Paul came to Corinth he did not come gifted with any particular eloquence or wisdom of his own. What he did speak about seemed to be the very opposite – the message of Christ Jesus and of him crucified – as a message of salvation for the whole world. He came in fear and trembling because who would want to respond to such an extraordinary message? If it was heard, it was not due to his eloquence but to the power of the Spirit working through him and them:

My speech and my proclamation were made not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

There is, in the Gospel message, a deep wisdom. True wisdom is an understanding of what life is about and that is what Jesus came to reveal to us. It is not, as Paul tells us, the:

…not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are being destroyed.

No, what Paul passes on is God’s wisdom, a mysterious, a hidden wisdom. A wisdom we could not find for ourselves, but needed to have revealed to us. And he adapts a quotation from Isaiah (64:3):

Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.

How could anyone have foreseen that God’s infinite love for us would be revealed by his Incarnate Son dying on a cross?

John of the Cross was someone who was steeped in this wisdom and he helped us to understand it by his wonderful poems and books, as well as the example of his life. He knew how the pain of the cross could paradoxically be a source of peace and even joy. Let us ask him to help us have some of his wisdom.

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