Thursday, September 5, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 8 September 2019

Luke 14:25-33        Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Reflection        The cost of responding to Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, the cost of actually living the Way of Jesus, insists we break away from the past and from all attachments that would stand between us and living in imitation of Jesus. In his 1937 classic, The Cost of Discipleship,  the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,

"The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost. We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving…  But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”**

Which begs the question, what is ‘the narrow way” of following Jesus? I believe it is picking up the cross and imitating the life of Jesus. And what does that mean? It means, like Jesus we must be willing to suffer or sacrifice for the sake of others. You see, Jesus did not come as a warrior king, intent on fighting the purveyors of evil and oppression and winning. Jesus did not come as a politician seeking office to govern the land and legislate change and take over. Jesus did not even come as a stakeholder in Judaism or the Roman Empire. Jesus came as a powerless peasant willing to empty himself of all attachments in order to serve and to suffer for the good of others. This is the cost of discipleship, our whole life.

It is in our willingness to advance benefits for others even at our own expense; to feed the hungry, house the homeless, give refuge to the stranger, comfort the mourning and heal the sick that we are the bodily presence of Christ in the world. If we claim to be disciples of Jesus then we too must empty ourselves of attachments, in Jesus’ words, “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself,”  in order to serve and to suffer for the good of others. This is the cost of discipleship.

Doing good works has its shadow side too. There is always the temptation to elevate ourselves. “Look at me. Do you see all the good I am doing? I help the homeless at Sr. José, I serve the refugees at Casa Alitas, I help my neighbors, I bring groceries to the food pantry…” The good works that we do are not intended to point to ourselves. They are meant to reveal Divine Presence and fulfill Jesus’ law of love for all people. By our self-emptying, our giving away of ourselves for others, we are the living Body of Christ and we reveal the Way of the cross to the world, and, there is absolutely nothing easy about this. The cost of discipleship is our life.

**Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan, 1966. BT 380.B66 1966.

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