Jesus speaks to us this Sunday about discipleship. Following him is at the center of our life for he leads us to the fullness of life and life itself. The path of discipleship is the road to Calvary, or better, using the Lukan theme, the road to Jerusalem. Two references may help in this regard.
Sunday’s Gospel passage comes from Luke chapter 14. Earlier in the Gospel, in chapter nine, Jesus “resolutely determines to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). In other words Jesus is committed to go to the cross in the ultimate act of love. Shortly before this, in the same chapter, Jesus instructs those who wishes to be his disciple: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (9:23).
The teaching continues in Sunday’s passage. Jesus uses three illustrations in this teaching on discipleship. Following Jesus demands a commitment; anything that would distract or lead us away from the path of life must be avoided.
In the first he uses family relationships to emphasize the importance of our relationship with him. He uses strong and disturbing language to emphasize the point. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Important to remember here is that Jesus is not making a teaching here on family life nor of one’s relationship with oneself. Rather, Jesus is teaching us that the primary relationship we have is our relationship with him. If this relationship is strong and in order, all other relationships we have in life will be able to grow and develop in a healthy and strong manner.
In some families there will be opposition to Jesus and following him. This opposition should not stop one from being a disciple for no other relationship can replace the relationship with the Lord or what he offers.
Nor should we allow the comfort of present relationships to divert us from the call to a deeper life of love rooted in Christian discipleship. Love of God entails a following — following Jesus on the way of love, which is the way of the cross, for Jesus says: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
In the second illustration, Jesus uses a construction project and proper planning with regard to financing the project. Anyone who is serious about the project he or she is planning to pursue will ensure, before starting the project, the proper resources to bring it to completion.
With regard to discipleship this entails a willingness to invest oneself in that discipleship. Following Jesus involves a commitment to him and his way. In this teaching Jesus is asking us to make the commitment, to recognize that we will need to make changes in our lives — in a foundational way. In this way, the life he offers will be able to take root and grow in us. Making this commitment will allow us to see the journey to its end.
In the final illustration, Jesus uses a military example. Before the king makes a decision to enter a conflict he will first ensure he has enough soldiers and resources to win. If he does not he will make plans to settle the conflict in another way.
Jesus offers an interesting interpretation to his example. He says: “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” In this case the king does not start a battle that he cannot complete. With regard to discipleship, possessions can distract and indeed inhibit one from following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. If one is “attached to” his or her possessions, or if attention to those possessions impedes one from the way of love, then they must be “given up” or as Jesus says “renounced.” In this case, it is not so much the possessions themselves as what they do to the disciple and the way they affect his or her journey.
Christian discipleship entails the commitment to love. The path of love is the road to Calvary. Discipleship is demanding. The temptation is to be overwhelmed by that demand yet we are reminded that in emptying ourselves we make room for God. In this sense, we allow God to work in us. He is the one who leads us on the journey. He is the One who propels us to love.
The first reading from Sunday’s liturgy reminds us that man, on his own, is weak: “The deliberation of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.” It is the Lord who shows us the way to life, the way of wisdom. On our own we cannot find the way but with the Lord, who gives wisdom and sends his “holy spirit from on high,” the path on earth is “made straight.” He shows us the way in Christ and Jesus invites us to follow him.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.