November 7, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today is found in Luke 14:25-33.
Great crowds were traveling with him and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
It’s a wonder that Jesus had any disciples at all! Discipleship can put us at odds with family; it demands the acceptance and bearing of suffering; the costs to be weighed are incalculably great; attachment to materialities must be sundered; and surrender to God must be total and seen through to the end of life. There’s no getting around how difficult it is. With these words Jesus winnowed the wheat from the chaff.
But some still do it; we sign up for hardship duty. We choose or at least we think we do, but do we really? I believe that the message of Jesus is meant for me, not just those crowds two millennia ago. So what is he telling me here? I don’t think he’s being literal, but at the same time I don’t think he wants me to minimize his words, either. He doesn’t want me to toss them aside judging them as irrelevant in this day and age. He doesn’t want me to say to myself, “He really doesn’t understand what my life is like.” On the contrary he knows exactly what my life is like and that’s why he wants me to read and think about this teaching.
Franciscan Richard Rohr writes of this passage in his book The Good News According to Luke, “If some of you were not born Christian and you simply picked up a document like Luke to read, without any previous prejudices, would you really see in the teaching of this man a philosophy of life that you would choose for yourself? Would you say, ‘This is the word of the Lord,’ and ‘Thanks be to God’? I don’t think I would….Try to look at Luke’s teaching simply and objectively. If you were to select one book and say, ‘This is going to be the philosophy of my life,’ I doubt if most of us would choose Luke’s Gospel, because it hits us too deeply in areas where we’re quite comfortable, myself included. He ends the chapter with an impossible one-liner: ‘None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’ Now what do we do with that? In general, I would say Jesus seems to want to draw his listeners into ‘conversations that matter’ as opposed to offering quick and snug answers. Those conversations expose our real loyalties and offer us wider and creative horizons.”
I have these “conversations that matter” with myself more frequently after all these months of reflecting on his words. They lead me somewhere — toward the kingdom of God. They are like signposts at forks in the road. Only they pose questions rather than give me answers; they give direction by making me think about where I want to go and why. We best learn by asking ourselves questions. That’s what Jesus is trying to get me to do. He gives guidance in a general way, but it’s up to me to apply it to my life in specific, concrete ways. It’s up to me to build the kingdom of God today, to construct a tower that will reach toward heaven. Jesus was and is a great teacher because he makes us think; he makes us ask questions; he makes us evaluate; and he makes us make decisions — to put his teaching into practice. In so doing, he offers us “wider and creative horizons.”