For some weeks now we are with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus makes use of this itinerancy to make important declarations regarding those who want to follow him: being welcoming to all without discrimination, being servants especially to the little ones, to travel light, being humble…. And today Jesus turns to the crowds following him, and to each one of us, saying you who are desiring to be my disciple are you ready to pay the price?
Jesus calls for personal commitment of a disciple
By turning to the crowds with shocking declarations Jesus wants to bring out responses that are personal. Watch out against a mob faith. I do things because I see others doing the same. In the end I lack a personal commitment. Jesus has resolutely taken the road to Jerusalem as a personal choice. Those who want to follow him need to do the same.
Being disciple demands, firstly, to love Jesus above all else. It’s a total commitment that overrides even familial relations. Luke goes on to use even word hating to emphasise the point: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). It’s serious. That’s why Jesus turns to the crowds in order to check; do these people really understand what they are doing? They may have seen miracles and eaten bread however it’s good to know that following him is not just a series of celebrations. There is a cross too.
Does Jesus ask us to hate and look for trouble?
Does Jesus really call us to sever our relations with family and friends? Not at all! He has always taught love and he has not changed mind. And this love does not exclude anyone. Nevertheless, if we want to be coherent with our faith in Jesus that may demand cutting certain relations that are not helpful. And that can be quite painful. With that we understand better the next requirement.
One should be ready to carry one’s cross: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is not asking us to look for trouble. But when the difficulties of life arrive we shouldn’t bolt. No one is foreign to suffering. At one time we may have suffered the pain of losing of a job, illness, death of a beloved one, break of relationship, misunderstanding, rejection…. These are but only few examples of the cross in life. Some of them may come as direct result of following Jesus. It’s with such baggage that we are called to forge ahead with fidelity.
We too are part of this procession to Jerusalem. It’s to us Jesus turns, asking us: why are you following me? Are you sure of what you are looking for? Are you aware of the cost? Jesus challenges a disciple that follows him with only a momentary commitment, people walking aimlessly along with him. Sit down and put things right otherwise your entire life ends up in a scorn. The commitment of a disciple is a serious one. It deserves a good preparation beforehand. It’s the message of the parables, drawn from real life.
Being disciple demands good preparation
In the time of Jesus a land owner built a tower, where a watchman was posted especially at harvest time to guard against thieves. But to begin building a tower without being able to finish it was a shame. Jesus does not want us to end in disgrace. It’s for that he is frank with us. He is not using honey word to attract followers. He speaks to us in the manner that helps each person to make a responsible decision. There is no compromise, either you give yourself entirely to him or you go your way.
Perhaps this gospel dealt with a problem which may be actual even today. Luke seems to be dealing with the Christians of his time. The Jews who became Christians risked a lot, at times even being excluded from their family. It was a decision with painful consequences for some people. And because of that, possibly, some went back on their decision. Hence, Luke evoked the words of Jesus to remind the Christian community that becoming a disciple was a decisive choice.
Faith in Jesus is a commitment for life
Professing faith in Jesus is far much more than reciting the creed, which we do fantastically well even half sleep. Professing the faith is a commitment to Jesus with one’s entire life. It shakes off certain attachments in life, leaving us free to give ourselves whole heartedly to him. That’s why Jesus invites us to look seriously into our preferences. Do they help us remain faithful to our Christian calling? Or are they a source of conflict?
The parables in today’s Gospel remind me of some buildings I see around. They are buildings half done, and you don’t remember in which decade the last brick was laid. Then you wonder, has someone changed mind, no longer interested in the project? Or is it just lack of money? There you have an example of someone who probably never sat down to plan. And the result is that the project remains in a state of ruin.
But there are also buildings that progress quite well. Each new day, a new brick is added. It is a sign of someone who still cherishes his plan and is determined to go on till the end.
When I look at my life, as disciple of Jesus, where do I place myself: a construction always in progress or an unfinished building abandoned in a state of ruin?
We certainly grow in humanity when we learn to choose in life and commitment ourselves whole heartedly to our choices. Lord, at the break of each new day give me to say yes to your call that I may be able to follow you with an unfailing commitment.
On his way to Jerusalem Jesus makes important declarations regarding any person who wishes to follow him: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Who would like to break bonds with family? Who likes the cross? But then, why does Jesus talk about everything we wouldn’t like?
He likes shocking us, why?
Well, by now we must be familiar with this Master from Nazareth. He is surely provocative. He does not hesitate to use strong language when he wants to pass some important message. Hence, there is no use staying on those shocking words. Rather, let’s hurry to discover what’s behind them.
Jesus is not playing a politician intent to woo masses neither is he seeking to be surrounded by masses to make an impression of an accomplished Rabbi. He wants, for disciple, a person who has accepted his message and made it his own. He is seeking, for disciples, persons who are not afraid to let their lives, ideas and actions be upset by the demands of the Gospel.
Disciple as reformed reformer
To become Jesus’ disciple entails letting myself be transformed in order to transform my surrounding. I’m liberated so that I can liberate others. This involves a revision of the way I see things, the way I act and the way I look at and treat others. That’s why Jesus turns to the crowd but pronounces words that go straight to the conscience of each individual person.
The Second Reading gives us a beautiful illustration of the revolutionary demands of Jesus. In a disciple, he wants to see a change of outlook and renunciation of possession. Let’s see what’s happening in this Reading.
The danger of mob faith
Paul is in prison where he meets Onesimus a run-away slave from his master Philemon. Yes, for Philemon a Christian, like all other people his time, it’s normal to have a slave. And Onesimus, as a slave, is only an instrument –nothing more. His life and death are in the hands of his master, especially that he had run away with his master’s money.
But Philemon, like all others, listens with piety the transmitted word of Jesus and he takes part in the Breaking of Bread (Communion) but thereafter business continues as usual. So, what difference does it make to be Christian? That’s the fruit of the mob faith that has no grip whatsoever on the conscience of an individual.
Paul baptises Onesimus who becomes Christin, hence, a brother in Christ. But Paul wants to send this brother-slave back to his fellow brother slave-master. (If this makes an awarkward reading it’s simply because we are talking about an awkward situation). Is it not just ridiculous for Philemon and Onesimus to be brothers in Christ while they maintain the usual master-slave relationship?
Paul is embarrassed
Paul dares to write to Philemon, asking him not only to receive Onesimus with kindness but also consider breaking the chains of slavery. Welcome him “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother….” It’s not mean revolution. Not only will Philemon be dispossessed but he has to change his entire outlook. It’s a radical change of relationship and the pain involved is simply a heavy cross to bear.
Paul’s letter dares to pull Philemon out of mob faith to personal commitment consistent with the faith he professes. If Philemon claims to be Christian he simply cannot act otherwise or he makes mockery of himself.
Professing faith involves the entire person
The letter wakes Philemon to the fact that professing faith in Jesus is more than reciting the creed. It’s a commitment for life that sends crumbling distorted ideas we hold about ourselves and others. The same revolutionary commitment is proposed to anyone claiming to be Christian today, otherwise, anything less, reduces our pious religious practice only to a good cinema.
Unfortunately, the letter of Paul to Philemon is still relevant. It means, little has changed. I’m Christian and yet there is still a small Onesimus still tethered in my shackles because of my lack of forgiveness, my egoism, avarice, lack of fidelity, corrutption…. There’s something to put in order.
See the importance why Jesus talks about sitting down to calculate. I can’t just go on in life without taking time to seriously think of the personal convictions that influence my actions and my relations. Today Jesus and Paul challenge me to look a little deeper in my heart and in my relationships. Isn’t there a purification to do?
What’s good about humanity is that we may have well waded in error, in oppression and in injustice. But then there comes a time when something wakes us. We come to see better the mess we have done and we want to change.
I thank you Jesus for the light of your word. It helps me see how unjust I have been to my fellow human beings. I ask you for one thing: give me the grace to welcome the letter of Paul to Philemon as something addressed to me, to me alone and not some other person.