September 8, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL
Wisdom 9, 13-18 + Psalm 90 + Philemon 9-10, 12-17 + Luke 14, 25-33
This Gospel begins by telling us that there were great crowds following him. The impression Luke would give us here is that he was a “rock star” at this point. I suspect Jesus knew that most of these folks were following him because they were entertained, excited, and curious about all that he was doing and the challenges he issued to those who often made their lives burdensome. Today he speaks to them, not to the Scribes and Pharisees. Today he speaks to us. He is on his way to Jerusalem. There is going to be trouble there, a lot of it, and if they are going along and survive the experience with him, they are going to have to do something radical, shocking, and maybe even frightening. When he says, “Take up a cross”, they know what that means. They know how people are tortured and killed with that thing. This is real powerful frightening image to them.
“You want to follow me?” he says, “Then nothing can come before me, not parents, children, brothers, or sisters.” When you make pleasing them the most important thing in your life, there is no room for pleasing God. That Semitic expression, “hate” in our terms means, “love less.” The great models of faithful discipleship left their families behind because Jesus was the only way. Remember Francis of Assisi who abandoned his comfortable family life and the future his father had planned for him to follow Jesus? He did not hate is father. He just loved Jesus more. I think of Father Stan Rother, a farm boy in Oklahoma who would have pleased everyone and would one day have inherited the whole farm. It’s what everyone expected, but he left his family to follow Christ in the suffering people of Guatemala. Our tradition is full of stories and examples of holiness and heroism in the lives of people who let nothing and no one take precedence over Jesus Christ.
To be worthy of Jesus, we must follow Jesus rather than follow the expectations of anyone else. Our lives are not about anyone except God. Our lives are lived in relation to God. God’s plan for our lives is what must matter, not our plans, the plans of our parents for us, or anyone else’s. Only the most free can be worthy disciples of Jesus Christ, and that freedom is best described as having nothing to lose, which is why possessions get in the way. It is that kind of freedom for which we must strive, but only if we calculate carefully and knowingly the cost to determine if you have what it takes. What is coming, is the cross. There is no way to say: “I didn’t know it was going to be like this.”
We have to pay attention to who it is we are always trying to please in this life. If it isn’t God, we’re in for a lot of sadness and disappointment. Jesus had one great task in life, to carry out the will and the plan of God. That is what he lived for, and he was willing to pay any price in order to fulfill that task. He expects the same of his disciples. The cost is probably more than we can imagine, but so is the reward.