For those of us who would be disciples of our Lord, we have to be willing to ruthlessly destroy everything that gets in the way of our discipleship.
Jesus tells us some things about discipleship today that, quite honestly, I think might make a person think twice about becoming a disciple. The first two come right at the beginning of the gospel reading: “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. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” And then, right at the end, he says: “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” He’s pretty clear: if we’re not willing to do these things, then we cannot be his disciples.
How does that make you feel? Are you willing to literally hate those closest to you for the sake of the Gospel? Would you take up your cross, knowing what happened to him when he did it, and come after him? Think of the things that you have that you love: are you willing to renounce them in order to follow Christ? Today’s Gospel is incredibly challenging, to say the least. Maybe I should say it’s incredibly unsettling. Maybe we are totally willing to be Jesus’ followers, but are we ready to pay the price?
And that’s the point of the parables he tells. Who is going to build a building without first calculating how much it would cost to build it to be certain there is adequate funding? Most of us have probably passed by some commercial buildings that started going up, only to be later abandoned, or that took quite a bit of time to build, possibly because the funding dried up. So we’re not unfamiliar with the metaphor here. Or if you were a military leader going into battle, wouldn’t you gather intelligence to estimate what the adversary is bringing to the battle to be sure that you can be victorious? Bringing it down a notch, think of a coach scouting out the other team to see how they play.
In any of these situations, it is absolutely necessary to calculate the cost. Not to do so would be foolish. The same is true of discipleship. There is a cost to discipleship. Those first disciples, almost without exception, paid for it at the cost of their lives. Preaching in the name of Jesus was a dangerous thing to do, but they calculated the cost and realized it was worth it, and they did die. Praise God for their faithfulness to the mission despite the cost; had they not been faithful we probably would not have the faith.
For us modern disciples, should we choose to follow him, there will be a cost too. We might not have to pay for it with our lives. But there will be a cross to bear. We might have relationships that get in the way. We might have things that we own that tie us too closely to the world and get in the way of our relationship with Christ. Those will have to go. That is the cost for us, and today we’re being asked if we are willing to pay it.
So how far do we take this? Do we really have to hate our families? Do we have to sell everything we own? Do we have to take up the cross in such a way that we become doormats for those whose views are different from ours? How much of the cost do we ourselves really need to pay?
We certainly know that Jesus – who loved his mother and father very much – did not mean that we were to alienate ourselves from our families. But there may be relationships in our lives that are obstacles to the Gospel. Maybe we’d gossip less if we didn’t hang out with people who brought that out of us. That would certainly help us to be better disciples. Maybe we’re in friendships or casual relationships that lead us to drink too much, or see the wrong kind of movies, or that draw us away from the healthy relationships we have. Those relationships have to end if we are to follow Christ more fully. Anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God and our ability to follow him in whatever way he’s called us has to go right now. Ruthlessly put an end to it now, because otherwise we give up the life to which we are called, the life that is better than even these things that we might enjoy very much.
Our Liturgy of the Word today reminds us that following the Gospel on our own terms is not possible. The call to discipleship is one that calls us to step out of our comfort zone, leave behind whatever ties us to the world and separates us from God, and follow our Savior wherever he leads us. So if our only sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God is maybe getting out of bed and coming to Church on Sunday, then Jesus is telling us today that’s not enough. It is a good start, but we have to reflect with wisdom on those things that are getting in the way, because it’s time we gave them up.
For those of us who would be disciples of our Lord, we have to be willing to ruthlessly destroy everything that gets in the way of our discipleship. As we present our gifts today, God gives us the gift of wisdom. How we live our lives this week will be the test of the way we’ve put that gift into action.