PENTECOST 16, PROPER XVIII - C - 16 LUKE 14. 25-33
As we follow Jesus through Luke’s gospel we can see his popularity is growing. Not only is he being invited to dinner, but large crowds are beginning to follow him wherever he goes.
Christ is followed on his way to Jerusalem and the cross by multitudes attracted, we may suppose, partly by his miracles, partly by curiosity, partly because he took the side of the poor, partly by half-hearted would be disciples, and so he turns and delivers a stern, even repellent claim.
Not the kind of words one would speak if trying to encourage those following him to continue to do so. Hate is a strong word, even today. The command to hate one’s kindred and his own life also, is not to be taken literally. The word Jesus uses here goes back to an Aramaic word which means to “love less.” It is of the will directed toward action that he is thinking of, and not the feeling or the emotion.
With that said the claim for absolute renunciation of all natural ties and every kind of self-interest is the first condition of discipleship. The cross is the ultimate symbol of renunciation. The parables of the tower and war are calculations. Jesus is warning his would be disciples of the cost of discipleship.
As a parent I have sometimes found myself speaking like my mother. I mean, reciting “warnings” she used to give to me and my younger brother. I am sure some of you have heard similar words, like when you wanted to do what everybody else was doing even if it included jumping off the bridge. She would say “do you know what you are getting yourself into if you choose to do that?”
At the time I counted it as another attempt to control my actions. But, after many years of reflection I now see there was wisdom in what she said, similar to Jesus’ warning in today’s gospel. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to those who were following him they should first count the cost; they needed to know what they were getting themselves into.
Before young parents present a child for baptism they need to know what they are getting themselves into. The promises they make on behalf of that child at the font of life are irrevocable in the eyes of God. They are responsible for seeing that the child they present is brought up in the Christian faith and life. They need to know that their prayers and witness are called for in order for the child to grow into the full stature of Christ.
Before an adult kneels before the Bishop and receives the laying on of hands at Confirmation, he or she needs to know what they are getting themselves into by vowing to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior; promising to put their whole trust in His grace and love, and to follow and obey him as their Lord.
The demands of the kingdom are absolute, all must be renounced. Nothing can be more important than following him. Not family, not possessions, not even one’s own life. The demands of Jesus are uncompromising. It is costly to be a disciple.
I prefer the word “sacrifice.” That’s what we all have in common if we choose to follow him; we have to be willing to “sacrifice” all that we are and all that we have for Him as He did for us on the cross.
Alas not many can commit totally to following Jesus. They didn’t then and they don’t today. The disciples he chose are the real examples of those who learned to “sacrifice” all that they had to follow him; family, possessions, and positions, even the ultimate sacrifice would one day be demanded of them. How many of us are that committed to Christ today? That is a question each of us has to answer for ourselves.
For the most part we have both feet of clay firmly planted in this world. It is not that we do not hope to one day enjoy the fullness of God’s kingdom, but not yet. We are not yet prepared to give up all that we own; not yet prepared to break relationships, not yet ready to surrender or set aside our vision of the future for a larger one.
Yet the message from Jesus is clear. It is costly to be a disciple and taking up one’s cross is not an option. Each of us has to take up his or her own cross. The burden in this world is different for each person, and each has been chosen by God to bear certain struggles for his own salvation and the salvation of those around him.
Secondly the cross is to be taken up daily. Commitment to following Christ is not just a one time event. Rather it is a continual practice of Faith and Obedience. The “warning” of Jesus is to count the cost before making that commitment.
There is wisdom in the Church’s practice of the Catechumenate. A required attendance of a lengthy period of instruction into the Faith and Practice of the Church before one makes a commitment is important. But ten or twelve weeks or even months are not enough. To live the Christian life is a day to day commitment; a lifetime road to God that begins and ends with obedience.
Each new day is an opportunity to renew that commitment, and to ask for the grace to keep it. We have to learn to set aside the confidence in our own strength and to trust in God with all our hearts. Obedience is the key. The daily choice is to obey or disobey.
To set aside one’s family, to deny oneself; to take up our cross and follow Him who was crucified is not appealing. So why then, would anyone count the cost from the beginning, knowing what one is getting himself into, and commit to a total renunciation of this world and all that is in it and chose to follow the crucified Lord?
Because it is to choose life rather than death. The command given to Israel in today’s first lesson remains. To Love and Obey God, that is life rather than death. To participate in the death of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, that is life now and a foretaste of the life to come.
No one would deny that these were hard sayings of Jesus to those who were following along behind him then, but they apply to the on-going life of the Church today as well. At every stage of its life the Church has faced the challenges, not only living up to Jesus’ demands, but of placing them before the world.
But before the Church can summon the world to costly obedience, we, as individual members of the Body of Christ have to commit ourselves to Love and Obey God first above all else, thereby setting the example for a world busy building towers and fighting wars, to follow. AMEN+