For the Sake Of The Lord
“Those who lose their life for my sake will find it”, says Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (10.39) In the same passage, he warns us that we will be maligned because of our faith and suggests that the most searing hostility in our lives will come not from strangers, but from the people who should be on our side: our brothers, our sisters, the members of our household, even our father and our mother. All the disciples of Jesus who try to be worthy of him, to be honest and authentic in their lives, coherent with their beliefs, faithful to their call sooner or later will experience rejection from the persons they love most and sometimes lose everything they hold dear in this world. This is echoed in the prayer of the Psalmist who becomes an object of gossip, reproach and shame to his kindred and is alienated by this own brothers (Psalm 69) - and yet knows that he can count on the steadfast love of God because, he says, “it is for your sake” that all this misery happens to me. Both the Gospel and the Psalm are meant to give us comfort in these circumstances. Three times in the same sentence Jesus invites us not to be afraid when this happens (10.26-31) because, as the Prophet Jeremiah proclaims in a similar situation, “The Lord is with me like a dread warrior” (Jer 20.11). Scripture brims with words of encouragement and consolation for those who suffer for the sake of the Lord.
And yet, comforting as these passages are, we might all the same be left in the throes of self-doubt by wondering whether it is really for the sake of the Lord that we endure trials, suffering, and alienation. As Jesus said to the people who tried to stone the adulterous woman, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8.7). We are not infallible, we can think that we are saying things or acting in the name of the Lord, out of faith or zeal for authenticity, when in reality we are deluding ourselves. More often than not, being rejected by those we love might not be justified (rejection is never justified), and yet be understandable. What right then do I have to God’s help and consolation in times of trial if I can never be entirely sure that what I am enduring truly is for God’s sake?
The answer to this dilemma might be suggested in one of the sentences of this same page of the Gospel, where Jesus says: “Even the hair of your head are counted” (Mt 10.30). This means that nothing happens to us without the Lord knowing it and therefore taking care of it. But the same image can be probed a bit further. Just as we do not know the number of hair on our head, so we will never completely fathom the intricacies of our desires, our motives and our intentions. Even when we think that we are taking a decision for the right reasons and have tried to discern the right thing to do as diligently as possible, we can never be sure that what we decide or do is ‘the will of God’, that it is absolutely and only for God’s sake. This uncertainty is an unescapable component of our human condition and we will remain exposed to it until we die. The Lord however knows the number of hair on our head, or, as Peter acknowledges at a particular poignant moment in his life when he is confronted by Jesus about the authenticity of his love, “You oh Lord know everything about me, even more than I know myself, and you know that despite my wishfulness, my contradictions, my mistakes, I sincerely want to love you” (cf. John 21.17). We do not need to persuade ourselves that we are sinless, or completely right, or that our motives are absolutely pure to look for solace in God’s promise that he will always be on our side. We would be lying to ourselves. The Lord kept walking with Abraham when he acted according to his faith but did not abandon him when Abraham doubted of the Lord’s promise. And the same happened to all of God’s friends in the history of salvation. We do not need to be right, authentic, selfless, holy to be protected, loved and supported by the Lord. We just have to believe in his faithfulness and rely on him to try our best, not expecting much from ourselves, not afraid of our possible shortcomings. As the Psalmist knows very well, rescue comes not by persuading himself that he deserves it, but by trusting in the Lord’s steadfast love: “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, for the sake of your steadfast love, you answer me with your faithful help” (Psalm 69.13).