Wisdom 9, 13-18 + Psalm 90 + Philemon 9-10, 12-17 + Luke 14, 25-33
September 4, 2016 on board MS Amsterdam
A few weeks ago much of this country had a welcome distraction from political advertisements and speeches as athletes from all over the world competed in Rio. Just the presence of those young people in Rio was the real story not whether they won or lost took home the gold, silver, or bronze. The score keepers had their lists, but to me it was a story of sacrifice and commitment told over and over again. In my extended family, we have an Olympian who competed in the winter Olympics in Tokyo. I know for a fact what his parents sacrificed to get him there, and I know what it took on his part in terms of practice and training early in the morning and late at night while continuing studies at school. It went on from the time he was ten till he was twenty five years old. I suspect many of you may also know a story like this from your families or friends. This story of commitment and determination, of sacrifice and suffering is there in any life that has some glory. As I said however, it’s not about winning or losing. It is simply about being there and being a part of it. Those young people who never mounted a podium came home with something just as valuable as a medal when they eventually tell their story.
There is a kind of parade going on in this Gospel, a march to Jerusalem. The crowds seem to be growing as people fall in behind Jesus. Some are there as spectators, and some are there because they want to be part of what they think is going to happen in Jerusalem. The apostles certainly were marching along quite confident that they were on the way to victory, and many others surely hoped that Jesus would enter that city and be the messiah they hoped for restoring the glory of Israel, sending the Romans back to Rome, and lifting the burdens the Pharisees had imposed upon them all.
Jesus had a different sense of this journey to Jerusalem. He did not see it as a victory march but rather as a funeral procession: a funeral for himself. The closer he gets, the more serious he becomes. The more he senses the way others are looking at this journey, the more he feels the need to bring them around to the truth because the destination was not really Jerusalem. The destination was the “right hand of the Father.”
When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he was not enlisting part time or seasonal volunteers, he was calling those who would be his own to total unconditional and persevering commitment. This text is not really addressed to those who are just along for the ride, to those who expect to be entertained, amused, and maybe cash in on the consequences at the end. It is addressed to those who have begun to listen, to follow, and to hope that what Jesus has promised will be theirs.
We hear three different conditions for discipleship in today’s reading.
First, a disciple must prioritize relationships in life. One’s primary relationship must be centered on Jesus. From that single relationship, all other relations, including family and self, can be ordered. It’s like those young people in Rio. You run with runners. People who are going to distract you from your dream have no part in your life. People who share your same goal will encourage you and push you bringing out the best.
Second, a disciple must be willing to suffer. The “cross” of Christ should be the guiding image and template by which disciples come to understand the divine, as well as come to understand the purpose in one’s life. This suffering does not necessarily mean something physical. It’s like the suffering of those young athletes who gave up party nights with friends to get up early and practice while everyone else is in bed in the early hours of the day.
Third, a disciple must “renounce all his possessions.” Dependence on material goods and wealth serve only to distract a disciple’s total commitment to God and the mission of discipleship that follows. What we have is a means for getting where we need to go, and a disciple always looks upon what they have been given with an eye toward what they are to do with it.
So as our week long adventure into the beauty of God’s creation comes to a end in the morning, we take with us the encouragement of this Gospel. Renewed and refreshed after these days away from all other distractions, we can step ashore and head for home remembering that all the days of our lives are a journey to the Right Hand of the Father. We are reminded of what getting there will ask of us, and we are always assured that this not a journey we ever have to make alone.