A number of years ago there was a popular book titled, “I never promised you a rose garden.” It was about a psychiatrist and a young woman with whom she was working. The struggle was to bring this woman out of her dream worlds into the world of reality. She finally managed to do so but the young woman was stunned by the harshness she found in her new real world. She shared her disappointment in her new world with her psychiatrist. The psychiatrist’s response was, ‘I never promised you a rose garden.’ In other words, I never told you life would be easy because I know it is not.
In a way this is the message of our first reading from Jeremiah and our gospel from Luke. When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to the people God never promised him a rose garden. “Stand up and brace yourself for action, stand up and tell them all I command you…they will fight against you but you shall not overcome, for I am with you to deliver you.”
Jeremiah paid the cost of his discipleship when he preached an unpopular message, advising the king to surrender to the Babylonian army besieging the city. Why waste innocent lives to defend a hopeless cause, forget your pride and think of the people. The military, industrial complex of that ancient time was determined, Jeremiah got to go. But Jeremiah would not go away; he stood his ground and would not be silent. It cost him.
In the gospel Luke is reflecting on the reality of the Christian community of his time, a reality that has repeated itself up to the present day when people make life choices that conflict with the wishes of others. In Luke’s time those who believed in and followed Jesus were seen as traitors – deserters of the faith of their fathers and mothers. They were seen as people who rejected the God of Israel or the gods of Rome and Athens. Their choice to follow Christ split families; they were rejected by kith and kin. Luke is telling them, this is the cost of discipleship. Jesus did not promise those who would follow him a rose garden, He warned us, ‘If anyone would be My disciple he must take up the cross and follow Me.’
In our day we have been blessed with so many examples of men and women who have made our world a better place because they ‘spoke the truth in justice’ and paid the price. St. Paul refers to such people as ‘a cloud of witnesses.’ Archbishop Romero, murdered because he demanded justice for the peasants of El Salvador – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu exposing the evil of apartheid – Martin Luther King and all those who marched with him for civil rights – Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Dorothy Donovan, religious women murdered for standing with the poor and disposed – Sister Helen Prejean who continues to speak out against the unjust justice of capital punishment. All these men and women who knew Christ never promised us a rose garden and were willing to pay the cost of true discipleship.
And then we have the whistle blowers in our own country, brave men and women who exposed wrong doings and injustices in the church, the government, the justice system. Good men and women who were willing to pay the price by speaking the truth.
How does today’s scripture apply to us? We won’t be asked to face hostile police men; we won’t have to worry about being taken away in the night. But are we willing to make decisions that may separate us from family and friends, maybe even our livelihood?
It costs to name injustice, especially in the work place. It costs to confront a bully of a boss who browbeats and cows good people who depend upon his favor to hold on to their jobs. It costs to confront people who abuse their power over others whether in the family household or a work place. We tend to look out for our own security and safety and keep silent when we know good people are being abused. It costs to ‘bell the cat.’
Are we willing to jeopardize our own popularity in our workplace when we let it be known we don’t appreciate sexist or racist remarks. Are we willing to pay the price for challenging remarks that belittle someone else’s faith or culture or life style? It may cost us if we speak up for what we believe, but Jesus never promised us a rose garden.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be given the strength we need to be faithful to Christ’s will and way as we try to live our lives as Christian men and women. We know Christ never promised us a rose garden but He did promise to be with us in every circumstance of our lives, especially in those circumstances that will make us pay the cost of discipleship. May we always trust that promise.