Each Fall, a lot of young boys aspire to become football players. But only a few will find their way onto the high school or university teams. Every year a coach challenges the hopefuls, explaining the cost involved: “Your muscles will get pain from exercises. We will run you till you think you can run no more. We will drill you and drill you, then drill you again, every day, after school. There will be no drugs, no alcohol. Only if you work hard will you make the team. If you don’t, you won’t.” The personal, economic, and emotional cost of becoming a professional athlete or an Olympics Medalist is still higher. Young children spend hours a day practicing their skills and submitting themselves to rigorous programs of diet and exercise to become great gymnasts or dancers. Others accept the cost of dedicating years to study and hard work to become outstanding doctors or lawyers or scientists or writers.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges his would-be followers to calculate the cost in following him, because they will have to leave their families and possessions and accept the pain and suffering involved in following him as true disciples.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be crucified. But the crowd thought that he was going to Jerusalem to exile the Romans and to reestablish the old Davidic kingdom of Israel. Jesus was enormously popular with the crowds as a great healer, brave teacher and miracle worker. Looking at the cheering masses, Jesus frankly put before them the spirited conditions for discipleship. Renounce both earthly possessions and possessions of the heart. It creates a dilemma. Because in the Middle East, anyone who deliberately cut ties with family and social network would lose the ordinary means of making a living. Further, a person’s life and family relationships were a necessity for security and identity, regardless of social position.
When Jesus said, “hate your family,” he was talking about spiritual detachment, the ability to put God first, before other relationships and before self-interest. Without such detachment, one does not have the ability truly to follow Jesus. Jesus cannot just be a part of our life but the center.
Jesus lays out four conditions for true Christian discipleship. i) Renounce too much attachment to family, give priority to God and His commandments. ii) Break off the excessive attachment to possessions by leading a detached life, willingly sharing one’s blessings with others. iii) Accept the hard consequences of discipleship which include daily sacrificial service done for others. iv) Calculate the cost involved in following Jesus. Using the two parables of the tower-builder and the king defending his country, Jesus says: think long and hard about Christian discipleship before a decision is made.
We need to accept the challenge with heroic commitment: Jesus’ challenge of true Christian discipleship can be accepted only if we practice the spirit of detachment and renunciation in our daily lives. Real discipleship demands true commitment to the duties entrusted to us by life, circumstances, the community, or directly by God Himself, and by loving acts of selfless, humble, sacrificial love offered to all God’s children around us.
Let us remember that all this is possible only if we rely on the power of prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Saint Mother Teresa said, “If we have our Lord among us, with daily Mass and Holy Communion, I fear nothing for the Sisters nor myself; He will look after us. But without Him I cannot be. I am helpless”
Some years ago, Time magazine asked a group of Americans to rate one hundred famous events in history as to their significance. The results of that poll are quite amazing. Number one was Columbus’ discovery of America. Three events tied for fourteenth on the list: the discovery of X-rays, the Wright brothers’ first plane flight, and the crucifixion of Jesus. Notice that: Jesus tied for fourteenth. That poll indicates that you and I have not done a very good job of communicating to the world the meaning of the cross and the price Jesus paid for our salvation
“Discipleship not only means to follow the Master with our ‘cross.’ It also means to reveal the crucified Christ to others. Let us try to accept the challenge of Christian discipleship by showing true commitment to the obligations and duties entrusted to us by our vocation in life like fidelity in marriage and strong faithfulness to justice in our profession.