By: Fr. Stephen Salocks, Rector
On the Twenty-third Sunday of the Year, words from the Book of Wisdom prepare us to hear and receive the hard and challenging words of Jesus about the cost of discipleship. “Who ever knew your counsel, O Lord, except you had given wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high?”
Our Lord’s call to discipleship takes priority over all other claims on our lives. Our identity is founded first of all on our relationship and commitment to Jesus Christ and on our dedication to following him.
Identity is the issue here. From a human and worldly perspective, many of us identify ourselves primarily in terms of our families, our hometowns, our occupations, and our possessions. But Jesus calls his disciples to abandon all those indications of identity in order that they might find their true identity in him. Jesus knows that many who follow him, in his day and in ours, are not prepared to identify as his disciples above all else. And so, he cautions them, and us, to count the cost and appreciate the commitment of discipleship.
The first requirement for any disciple of Jesus is a detachment from everything that would distract or prevent one from making the commitment to the Lord. As with the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer of abandonment, our mindset is : “All that I have and all that I possess, Lord, you have given to me. I surrender it all to you, to be disposed of according to your will.” This is the attitude that frees and enables us to follow Jesus. Such detachment or abandonment is important, and Jesus uses hard words to express its necessity.
Jesus uses the word “hate,” with regard to the prospective disciple’s choice between following Jesus and family ties. The term “hate” in the saying is on the one hand an obvious exaggeration, but on the other hand it emphasizes the overriding importance of God’s kingdom and following Jesus. It is not a feeling but a value judgment that gives priority to our relationship with Jesus. It does not abandon the fraternal charity, love of neighbor, and honor of father and mother that is commanded elsewhere in the Scriptures. We remember the number of times Jesus interacted with his own mother in the Gospels and that he always did so with love and respect, and not with hate. However, we also note how he put his family’s demands into perspective and made the following of his Father’s will the priority.
Jesus gives another hard saying when he asserts that following him can and will involve suffering. Those who decide to follow Jesus must be prepared to take up the cross as they do so. Back on the Twelfth Sunday, we heard Jesus say almost the same thing: “Anyone who wishes to come after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Disciples in the Gospel are following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the Cross and Resurrection. Disciples today also follow Jesus to the Cross, and through the Cross to the Resurrection.
Cross-bearing requires deliberate sacrifice and exposure to risk, ridicule and possible rejection in order to follow Jesus Christ. Such a commitment is not just a way of life; it is a commitment to a person. We dedicate ourselves to the Son of God who loves us and who died and rose for our salvation. We follow Jesus Christ and pledge ourselves to learn his way of life.
One last thought: Luke’s fellow evangelist, Matthew, may well have had Luke’s perspective in mind as he recorded Jesus’ words in the 11th chapter of Matthew: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (11:28-30).
Following Jesus and carrying the cross are the key elements of our Christian identity. The call to discipleship requires a complete change of priorities. The cost is high, as Jesus’ gospel parables show, but discipleship is possible with the grace and strength provided by God. Here is where the wisdom of God and the Holy Spirit are present. We are never alone as we accompany our Lord and move toward the fullness of life in God’s Kingdom… if only we trust that God is with us, directing us, and helping us along the way.
Today, we pray that God will grant us the graces to deepen our faith and grow in greater awareness of what it means to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.