Christ the King Catholic Church
In order to understand the words of Jesus in today's Gospel, we have to understand the context in which he spoke them.
In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he knows that he will suffer and die. As he makes that journey, he is joined by large crowds - large crowds who think that he is going to Jerusalem to establish the Kingdom of God and they want to be a part of it.
There is almost a party-like atmosphere. And so, Jesus turns to the people in that crowd and challenges them to think seriously about what they are doing. He tells them that if they really want to follow him, they must be ready to sacrifice everything.
And to make his point Jesus tells them that following him, being a disciple, must come before all that is dearest to most people: the people we love, our possessions and our very own life. If the people in the crowd are not ready to do that, Jesus tells them that it is better that they not make the journey to Jerusalem, for they will certainly be scandalized by what will take place there.
Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me without hating his mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." In our translation of the Gospel we use the word 'hate' to translate what Jesus originally said in Aramaic. I think it is unfortunate because the meaning of the word that Jesus used is not 'hate' as we understand it in English. The word that Jesus used is better translated 'prefer'. If we prefer others, our possessions or ourselves to Jesus, we will never be able to make the sacrifices that are part and parcel of following Jesus and of being a part of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is not asking us to abandon our families and friends, but he is calling those who choose to follow him to know that loyalty to him will, at times, create tensions within ourselves and with those we love. When there is a conflict of loyalty, Jesus tells us a disciple, a true disciple, will give his or her allegiance to Jesus.
Jesus uses two parables to illustrate his point. In these parables he reminds us that before we make any big commitment in life, we must think about the cost. If we are not willing to pay the cost, we would be foolish to make the commitment. If we do think about the cost and we are ready to pay that cost, we won't be scandalized when that commitment costs us the way in which all important commitments will cost us.
The first example is from rural life. People, in Jesus' day, would build towers from which they would watch for animals and thieves. No one would start to build one of those towers if they knew from the get-go that they could not complete it. It would be foolish.
The second example is from the royal capitol where decisions about peace and war are made. No king would wage war against another king whose army vastly outnumbered his own. It would mean certain defeat. A wise king calculates his chances of success before sending troops into battle.
The same is true for discipleship. Jesus tells the people who are following him in that festive atmosphere to think seriously about what they are doing. Jesus never tries to sell us a bill of goods. Talk about truth in advertising! Jesus is brutally honest with us. "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Calculate the cost of discipleship. Don't begin something that you will never be able to complete. It would be foolish. Discipleship means putting Jesus first in our lives. If we are not ready to do that, we will never complete the journey.
The scriptures challenge us today as they challenged the people of Jesus' day. We gather here in church and we celebrate as we should in obedience to Jesus' command to do this in memory of him until he returns. But behind this celebration there must be a commitment - a commitment to put Jesus first in our lives. A commitment to allow his word, among the many, many words we hear, to be the word that sets the direction for our lives. A commitment to be ready to say 'no' to ourselves in order to say 'yes' to Jesus -to prefer Jesus above all else.
It is this choice that the Book of Wisdom calls the beginning of wisdom because in Jesus we come to know what God intends. He is the very wisdom of God.
I would sum up today's Gospel like this. Arnold loves Susan. In professing his love for her, he has continually told her that he would do anything for her. In fact, he writes these touching words to his beloved:
I would swim the mighty ocean for one glance of your lovely eyes. I would walk through a wall of fire for one touch of your delicate hand. I would climb the highest mountain to hear but a single word from your gracious lips.
As ever, your faithful Arnold.
P.S. I'll come to see you next Saturday, if it doesn't rain.
Perhaps we are all a bit like Arnold. We say beautiful things to the Lord in our prayers and our songs of praise. But those beautiful sentiments don't always translate into actions.
"Anyone who does not take up the cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple." Jesus spoke those words to the crowd on the way to Jerusalem and he speaks these words to us at Christ the King today.