WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW ANYONE OR ANYTHING TO GET IN THE WAY OF BEING JESUS’ DISCIPLE
(A biblical reflection on the 23rd Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – 8 September 2019)
Gospel Reading: Luke 14:25-33
First Reading: Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalms: Psalm 90:3-6.12-14.17; Second Reading: Philemon 9-10.12-17
Now great multitudes accompanied Him; and He turned and said to them, “If any one comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be My disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33 RSV)
Like other teachers of His day, Jesus sometimes used exaggeration to emphasize a point. To stress that our loyalty to Him is most important, Jesus says in today’s Gospel that anyone who wants to be His follower first has to turn his back on parents and family. Jesus does not literally mean we should sever all our ties with those we love but that we shouldn’t allow anyone or anything to get in the way of being His disciple.
One of the misunderstood passages in the New Testament is also part of today’s Gospel. Jesus says that whoever wants to be His disciple must take up the cross and follow Him, a passage some people interpret to mean Jesus wants us to patiently accept whatever pains and sorrows come our way. Without rejecting this explanation, there is another possible interpretation we should consider.
The Greek word for “cross” in this passage is tau, the name of one of the letters in the Greek alphabet. A tau looks something lie a + or an X, and the Jews sometimes traced it on the forehead as a way of dedicating themselves to God. Thus, taking up one’s tau or tracing the tau on one’s forehead meant the person belonged to God just like a brand on a steer indicates it belongs to a particular rancher.
When Jesus says His followers should take up their cross (tau), He means they should give themselves or dedicate themselves to God as the instruments He will use to bring His peace and love into the world. This dedication should be so complete that the person should not allow even family or friends to get in the way of living as Jesus’ follower.
Because Jesus realizes what He is asking is not going to be easy, He wants those listening to Him that they should first calculate what being His follower will involve. Like the man who built the tower or the king who went to battle, the person who wants to the Jesus’ disciple must first determine if it’s possible to complete the task, giving up family and possessions, if necessary, for the building of God’s Kingdom. That’s the challenge for us Christians every day of our lives.
Francis of Assisi knew what dedicating one’s self to God really meant. Do you still remember the famous peace prayer attributed to the saint? Now, do we (you and I) allow God to work through each of us, bringing His peace, love, joy, and forgiveness to our families and friends?
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 314-315.)
Prayer: I praise You and adore You, Jesus, my Lord and my God. The triumph of Your cross is the triumph of Your perfect love. Blessed is Your most precious name, forever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 7 September 2019
A Christian Pilgrim