Saturday 3 September 2022

Sunday, September 4, 2022 - No turning back

To read the texts click on the texts:Wis9:13-18; Phlm 9b,10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33

“Look before you leap” is a phrase which might be used to summarise the readings of today. This might also be phrased as “Think before you take the plunge” or even, “Plan before you make a decision.” While this is true of any decision, and especially of important ones, it is all the more true of the decision to decide whether to follow Jesus. This is because Jesus demands total commitment, total dedication, and total loyalty. There can be no turning back. There can be no half-hearted measure. There can be no sitting on the fence once one has decided to follow

The challenges and difficulties of this unconditional following are brought out well in the first reading of today from the Book of Wisdom, which speaks of how our mortal nature makes us vulnerable. It tells of how, because we are human, we are limited and lack understanding and perseverance. We lack the insight and wisdom that is required to do what we have to do and commit ourselves to persevere. It is only with the assistance of God’s spirit of wisdom that it is possible for us to discern God’s will and to do what is required of us.

This is the discernment to which Jesus calls his listeners. He does not mince words or couch them in pious platitudes. Rather, he tells it like it is. It is the language of the cross. However, it must be noted that the term “cross bearing” has been corrupted over the centuries. Bearing a cross has nothing whatsoever to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships. It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ. It is the outcome of an unconditional following of Jesus. Cross bearing requires deliberate sacrifice and exposure to risk. It requires opening oneself to ridicule in order to follow Jesus. This commitment is not just to a way of life, however. It is a commitment to a person. A disciple follows Jesus and learns and lives a new way of life.

In a sense, no one can know whether he or she will be able to fulfill a commitment to discipleship. This is precisely why the discernment and wisdom given by the Spirit is required. Thus, through the two parables that make up the text for today, Jesus calls each person who would be a disciple to consider, in advance, what that commitment requires. In the parables, Jesus is not providing a lesson on Cost, Accountancy or a strategy for war. Rather, he is calling for preparedness and perseverance before deciding to follow him. Jesus did not set his face towards Jerusalem without being prepared to face all that would happen to him there, including the laying down his life. Thus, he expects that anyone who takes the first step must be prepared to go with him till the end.

The cost of discipleship is paid in many different ways. For some, it means a redirection of time and energy. For others, it means a change in personal relationships, in vocation, or in a commitment of financial resources. But, for each person, the call to discipleship is all consuming. A complete change in priorities is required of anyone who decides to follow. No part-time disciples are accepted. No partial commitments are allowed. Since the demands are tough, Jesus does not lure his listeners into unconsidered commitments with false promises. He makes it explicitly clear that following him will not be easy. Following him will require the involvement of the whole person.

In making these demands, Jesus could be as forthright and honest as he was because, more than the quantity or number of disciples, what mattered to him was the quality and depth of commitment and fidelity. He was not interested in number or size, but in depth and intensity. His goal and vision was the kingdom and with the kingdom, there could be no room for mediocrity, complacency, and smugness. Jesus could also be as forthright and honest as he was because his own commitment to the kingdom was of the highest level and quality. He demanded from others what he gave himself. His life was the example of what he demanded of others.

The costs of discipleship, and the price of following Jesus, are made explicit in the second reading of today when Paul requests Philemon to take Onesimus, the slave, back. However, he is to be taken back not as slave, but as brother and fellow disciple because, with Jesus there is no distinction. All are loved equally, all are regarded equally, and all are accepted whole-heartedly.

Thus, the call to discipleship is made, not only to a select few, but to every person who opens him/herself to listen to that call. While there is no coercion and force on the part of Jesus, there is the emphatic and categorical demand to follow wholly and completely. Once one has weighed all the options, once one has made discernment, and once one has decided to follow, there can be no turning back.

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