When we say that something is worthy, what do we mean by that? It’s clear in our Gospel that Jesus is describing for us what it means to be a worthy disciple, but if we’re to have a right understanding of what it means to be a worthy disciple, what’s our understanding of someone being worthy?
Worthiness is often associated with having great value and showing great excellence. And when we say we admire someone as having great worth, it’s more than just someone who is the most intelligent, or the most successful, or the most accomplished. For me, it’s more about seeing someone as being fully alive – meaning a person that really cherishes life, values the meaning of relationships, shows great virtue, puts others before self, and doing it all with a real understanding of humility.
But when applying that sense of worthiness to your own self, we can often struggle with it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of placing a sense of self-worth based upon accomplishments and that sense of worthiness coming from the recognition and praise you get from others, or that you have to earn your self-worthiness by your behavior, needing to be perfect in every possible way in order to show worthiness.
But when we don’t get the recognition, or your reputation being slandered, or confronted again with your own insecurities and shortcomings, do we still have a sense of worthiness? Being worthy comes, not from what we get from others, but more from what we give.
All of our readings today remind us that a right understanding of worthiness first of all comes from God. Being a worthy disciple of God is ultimately about the generous giving of ourselves. And that doesn’t mean the amount of money we give away or our contributions to worthy causes. It’s more about the giving of ourselves to people: real acts of service without thinking of what we can get in return, the ordinary practices of how you speak about others, building others up rather than tearing them down, forgiving others that makes us worthy disciples of God because of what we give.
The woman in our First Reading is a great example of this, who displays her worth in her hospitability to the prophet. There was no thought of what she would get in return, how she might be rewarded, it was an entirely selfless act, knowing that her charity was her own way to show her love and charity to God Himself.
Ultimately that is the heart of what it means to be a worthy disciple of God – that everything about us, what we say and what we do, is all done out of a love for God. That is the whole point of what Jesus says in the Gospel. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
Nothing is more important than God. Period. No relationship in our lives is more important than God. And no suffering or sacrifice is too much to give up on God. The more we glorify God the more we are known as worthy. From a strictly human standard that doesn’t sound right. It can certainly seem demeaning and undignified to carry out those expectations in order to be considered worthy, but God doesn’t operate according to our standards.
Last week we had the feast day of St. Irenaeus, a 2nd century martyr of the faith, and he is famously known for saying, “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” The more we glorify God the more we know how to live life. Being fully alive is not according to cultural standards of living a life that just wants to maximize pleasure without having any worries or cares in life. That’s not a person being fully alive.
Being fully alive is when we can recognize that all things come from God, and are dependent upon God, nothing would exist without God. And even when there are trials and hardships – crosses to carry – they are not seen as if God is punishing me or doesn’t care about me, but an opportunity to grow in endurance, perseverance, and courage for the sake of my love for God. Because even though we know that nothing would exist without God, we also know that God places an immeasurable amount of worth to our lives. “You are worth more than many sparrows,” as we remember Jesus saying from last week’s Gospel.
In order to live a life that is fully alive by glorifying God, it’s good to consider, on a practical level, how much time we actually give to God each week? If one hour on Sunday is all the time I give God in a week, does that really show how important God is in my life? From all the choices that I make in a day do I consider how it serves God or is it more about how it serves me?
Having that sense of worthiness comes, not from what we get from others – the recognition and attention we get for some work or success that makes us worthy, but more from what we give. And as much Jesus wants us to be those worthy disciples, it’s also for us to know how to live life fully. As St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” And so give God the glory He deserves, and in turn, to know how to live our lives more fully as worthy disciples of God.
Father Adam Park grew up in the Washington, DC area. He discovered his vocation to the priesthood while on retreat during his senior year in high school. Being ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, he has served in different assignments throughout the archdiocese.