23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel contains one of the most shocking sayings of Jesus: If anyone comes to me without turning his back (in the original, hating) on his father and mother... indeed his very self, that person cannot be my disciple. If God commands us to love our neighbor, what is this business about hating parents? Obviously, hate here is not a feeling; it implies to love less. These words mean simply that one’s loyalty to Jesus should outweigh all other loyalties. We are not commanded to dislike the members of our family. But when family loyalty conflicts with commitment to Jesus, we must act in a way to choose him over our family.
Jesus uttered these words on his final journey to Jerusalem. He knew how ignorant the crowds acclaiming him as Messiah were of the price he was about to pay, and they likewise must pay if they joined his cause. He warned them not to emulate the man who started to build a tower he could not complete, or the king who embarked on a war he could not win. If they wished to follow him, they must stick to the consequences. He spoke these words to pry their eyes open.
Jesus’ words brings us face to face with the cost of discipleship and the relative importance of all human commitments when compared with our commitment to Jesus. No created reality can take precedence over the Kingdom. The discipleship is not just a good feeling about Jesus. It is a matter of taking concrete choices day by day. Being a Christian is an exacting task, one that calls for total self-giving to the Master. A disciple must love less his family and his very self. He must put Jesus first. Jesus demands absolute detachment from family and a redirection of time and energy toward him.
Jesus demands sacrifice. Taking up the cross daily is part of the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. A person who chooses to follow Jesus may discover himself searching for a new job because he said No to unethical business deals. Or he may find himself ostracized, shunned for living according to Jesus’ ways, by persons who were once considered friends. Rejection on our part of many things that our permissive society tolerates or even applauds -casual sex, abortion, barbarous weaponry, etc.- often invites likewise rejection of ourselves by our contemporaries. If we refuse to join the crowds that worship the false gods of our society, we are hopelessly out of step with the modern world and derided by it. That can hurt.
Another price to pay for following Jesus is personal possessions: None of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions. This is not an exhortation to give away everything we own and plunge head-long into poverty. But it is a directive which involves a commitment of financial resources. Any kind of hindrance, any thing to which we are attached, has to be removed if we are to become authentic followers of Jesus.
Being a follower of Jesus is costly, indeed. Jesus tells us that before we decide to follow him, we need to assess the cost. Discipleship must be accepted with mature deliberation. Like the tower builder of the parable who would not begin the project without assessing his ability to complete it, or the king who would go into a battle after considering the odds. We cannot complain of not having been forewarned. Ever since Jesus pronounced these radical words about discipleship ( today’s Gospel), we have been trying to make discipleship more comfortable and appealing. The fact is, it is not! The price of discipleship is the same today as it was in Jesus’ own time. This price is for everyone who wants to follow Jesus.