Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our gospel today, Jesus says: “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.” These words, which Jesus addresses to his disciples and to us, can be deeply disturbing and shocking. So, what is this about? Certainly, the Lord is not telling us to ignore the Fourth commandment, Honor your father and mother. Nor is He telling us to refuse to see God in others. And He is not telling us to ignore God’s handwork in our own lives. 

The Gospel of Luke presents us with an image of Jesus being on his long and ultimate journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus spoke these words on this final journey to Jerusalem where He will die soon on the Cross. While he is on the way people begin to rally behind him. Today’s gospel reading begins with this line: “Great crowds accompanied him on his way, and he turned and spoke to them” Lk 14:25). He wants them to understand the implications of being his disciple. The following of Christ is not a lifestyle option to be juggled with the many other interests that touch our lives. It is an invitation not simply to acknowledge Christ, but one which demands total commitment. Such a commitment cannot be made without the detachment that is willing to subordinate everything to the service of Christ. In the concluding words of today’s Gospel: “None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.” 

Detachment, the ground of discipleship, is illustrated throughout the gospels. Fishermen left their nets, a whole way of life, in order to follow Jesus. The rich young man, anxious to become a disciple, went away saddened because he could not relinquish his riches. Jesus himself, the servant of the Father, refused to put self-interest above his Father’s will.

It is within this context that we should understand the words of Jesus concerning father, mother, wife, and children. These are indeed the fundamental preoccupation in our lives. They legitimately command our love and loyalty. They cannot, however, displace Jesus as the Lord of our lives. Discipleship inevitably involves the cross. If we take our discipleship seriously, we shall face difficult choices, sometimes painful choices. 

Through the images of the man building a tower and the king marching to war, Jesus counseled his followers to consider the radical cost of discipleship. A building, if it is to reach completion, demands a careful assessment of materials. A military campaign, if it is to be successful, relies on the careful assessment of necessary force. What Jesus is looking for are disciples who, having counted the cost and realistically assessed it, are ready,  nonetheless, to be his disciples. So today Jesus is looking at a big crowd and teaches in a way that is meant to distinguish true disciples from the “lip service” disciples. We are asked to ponder in which category we most truthfully belong. 

Let us be reminded that, as disciples, we are not left alone. Christ walks with us, Christ walks ahead of us. Without prayer and reliance on Christ, our decisions are frequently driven by the confusion of fear, self-interest, and inadequacy. 

By:  Fr. Joseph Ayinpuusa