Becoming ‘all flame’!

THERE is a famous story taken from the writings of the Desert Fathers, which reads this way:

 “Abbot Lot went to see Abbot Joseph and said: ‘Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as am able I strive to cleanse my heart of bad thoughts: now what more should I do?’ The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like lamps of fire. He said: “Why not become all flame?”

 This amusing story drives the point that if we want to be true Christians, we’ve got to give it all, become  “all flame.” In other words, we can’t be half-hearted and mediocre in the way we practice our faith. We’ve got to give our best in living a just and moral life; growing in prayer and trust in God; fulfilling our respective vocations responsibly, be it a parent, a worker or a leader.  

 The Gospel this Sunday, Luke 14:25-33, gives the same message. As great crowds were traveling with Jesus, he turned and addressed them: “If anyone comes to me without hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

 Now, these words are strong, but they don’t mean literally what they say. Using a Semitic language which is exaggerated in style, Jesus wants to challenge us to see if we are fully committed to following him to the bitter end.

New Testament professor, Timothy Johnson, explains,  “The terms denote attitudes and modes of action, not emotion. The point is not how one feels towards parents and family, but one’s effective attitude when it comes to a choice for the kingdom.” It reminds me of another Gospel passage (Matthew 5:37), which demands total loyalty to the kingdom: “Let your yes mean yes, and your no means no.”

 The test of true discipleship is following Jesus on the cross. Are we with him even it times of sufferings and crosses. It’s good to hear our favorite priest deliver beautiful homilies, be amazed by his eloquence and charismatic personality, but do we practice what he preaches?  Can we carry our crosses, forgive our neighbor, give more to our church, and trust Jesus fully in times of sickness and pain?

The Gospel then calls for radical discipleship, a full commitment, and availability to following and defending the ways and values of Jesus Christ and his kingdom to the bitter end. It calls for sacrifice, firmness of faith, and reliance on God’s providence, especially in these times when many people question our values and beliefs.

 It demands that we examine our relationships. Are they becoming the central figures of lives rather than God? Are our relationships with our parents, children, and friends becoming an obstacle to our faith? Specifically, are our obsession, jealousy, and possessiveness with them prevent us from loving and honoring God and his commandments?

 Being a radical disciple of Jesus Christ does not mean that we lose our sense of joy and give up our fun times with our family and friends.  In fact, the mark of Christian discipleship is a joyous spirit because the believer has found the “pearl of great price,” and he is ready to give up everything to possess this treasure.

May we become ‘all flame” for Jesus and the values he stands for. Amen!

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Fr. Rodel “Odey” Balagtas is the pastor of Incarnation Church in Glendale, California.

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