9 September 2007, XXIII Sunday of the Year

Wis 9:13-18b; Phlm 9b-10,12-17; Lk 14:25-33


The Cost of Discipleship

 

The story is told of a lone traveler lost in the desert clutching to his bosom the leather bottle containing the last few drops of precious water, crying desperately to God to come to his help and God telling him that if he really believed that God would rescue him he should throw away that bottle with those last few precious drops of life saving water.

We cannot easily understand this God who makes such difficult demands. We cannot understand a God who had the heart to tell Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac knowing full well that the old man was far advanced in years to have another child. We cannot understand a God who asked the people of Israel to leave the fleshpots of Egypt and cross the Red sea trusting in God alone and in God’s messenger Moses. We cannot understand a God who asks the poor prophet Hosea to marry a woman of easy virtue just in order that God can set the prophet up as a living symbol of unfaithful Israel. We cannot understand a God who stalks the poor, simple fishermen at the lake shore and bids them to leave their boats, their nets and their loved ones and follow Him. We just cannot understand Jesus when He tells an eager and enthusiastic follower that the price of following Him would be homelessness, hunger, hardship, loneliness, rejection and misery.

“Foxes have their holes, birds their nests, but he Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Nor can we easily understand how Jesus could use such sharp words to demand a huge sacrifice from a would-be follower to whom He said; “Let the dead bury their dead; you come and follow me.” (Luke 9/60), and how to understand Jesus when He tells the rich young man, “Go, sell what you have; give it away to the poor and then come and follow me.”

This is the logic of love. Mark tells us clearly that Jesus indeed looked at the young man with great love, and precisely because He loved him, He wanted him to be his disciple, but would not spare him from the price of discipleship. As the celebrated spiritual writer Dietrich Bonhoffer says, “When Christ calls someone to follow Him, He bids him to come and die with Him.” This is the logic of love. This is the logic of Calvary. This is the folly of the cross.

It is only in this context that we can make at least a sense of why Jesus says that we need to “hate” our father, mother, relatives and friends, dear ones and even our own life if we wish to be His disciples. Obviously the “hate” that Jesus requires is not some sort of aversion or antipathy, disgust or hostility. Jesus would never advocate such destructive emotions or attitudes. The Gospel of Jesus is the Gospel of love, not of hate. What, then, does Jesus mean when He asks us to “hate” our father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and children and even our own life? Only those who have ever experienced the strong power of love would understand this. When we are possessed by love, when we are overpowered by love, when the object of our love lays total claim on our whole self, when we are wholly given over body, mind, heart and soul to the one we love, everything else becomes relative, meaningless and unattractive except in relation to the one we love. This is what has to happen to us. We need to be so gripped by Jesus, so possessed by Jesus, so overpowered by Jesus, and, if I may use the word, so “obsessed” with Jesus that all other bonds and ties become secondary and less important. That is what happened to Paul. “Whatever I once valued as precious now I consider it as sheer waste compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. All I want is to know Christ and experience the power of His resurrection. Everything else is mere rubbish.” (Phil 3/10)

Discipleship is not external imitation of Christ. Discipleship is inner identification with Christ. It is a prolonged process of painful purification from all that prevents us from being completely lost in Christ as Paul says, “I long to die and be dissolved into Christ.” To be dissolved into Christ, we have to die to ourselves, to our pet plans and projects, preferences and predilections, prejudices and priorities I order to be like John the Baptist whose ideal was, “He must increase; I must decrease.” As Vinobha Bhave says, “Allow the sun to rise in your life and the stars will slowly disappear.” Discipleship means to allow Jesus to be the brightly shining sun of our life in the splendor of whom other relationships and bonds will pale into insignificance.

This is not easy. This will turn our whole life into one big way of the cross. As Jesus Himself says we have to carry our cross and follow Him. That is what makes it possible. He goes ahead of us. We only go after Him. He shows us the way. We only walk along with Him. He gives us an example. We only imitate Him. He gives us the grace. We only respond to him. So let our prayer today be “Fill us with your love and we shall exult and rejoice. Let your favour be upon us and give success to our endeavors.”

Freddie S.J.

 

 

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