True Discipleship, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), September 9, 2001

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
23rd Sunday of OT, Year C
September 9, 2001
Wis 9:13-18; Phlm 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33

1) Today’s Gospel is meant to change our lives forever. From the perspective of heaven, if we’re blessed by God to make it, I’m convinced that anyone who looks back upon his life will have a profound remorse unless he really strived to become a holy disciple of Jesus. From the perspective of heaven, we’ll see that anything other than following and loving God in this world with all we’ve got would have been a sad waste of time. If the real point of why we’re in this world is to freely say yes to God and to his plans for us, then we must order our life here in accord with that end.

2) This is Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel. He talks to us about Christian prudence and wisdom, about ordering our lives here toward that goal. He describes that if someone wants to build a tower, he’d be stupid to start unless he knew just what it would take to finish the project. Likewise, if someone were thinking about getting involved in a war, he would be stupid unless he thought about whether and how he could win this war. Jesus puts these examples in the context of his discussion on what constitutes a true disciple. That a true disciple has got to make the same commonsensical calculations, to know what he’s getting into, and to know how to finish off the pursuit.

3) And Jesus gives very clear instructions about what it takes to be his disciple. We want to be his disciples, because, basically, nothing else makes sense from the point of view of why we’re here in this world and what our calling is. Jesus tells us that NO ONE can be his disciple unless he does three things: (a) “hate” his father, mother, wife, children, brothers sisters, indeed his very self; (b) take up his Cross and follow Him; and (c) renounce all of his possessions. Each of these three things is stark and challenging, but if we really want to be his disciples, we have to examine our consciences of whether we really are doing any of the three.

4) Before we examine what Jesus is getting at with these three conditions of true discipleship, we first have to say that there are a lot of “fans” of Jesus in the world, even in the Church, but relatively few disciples. There’s the story of a professor who was once told by a colleague, “Do you remember so and so? He was one of your students.” The professor replied, “I do remember so-and-so. And I remember that he attended several of my lectures, but he was not my student.” The point the professor was getting at was that to be someone’s student means to put what one learns from that teacher into practice. Someone who merely shows up at a lecture and then goes out and does exactly the opposite, or blows off what the teacher said, or treasures it so little that he easily forgets it, isn’t a real student of that professor at all. A student is someone who tries to learn from a teacher, not just be entertained.

5) There are many in the world and in the Church about whom Jesus could say a similar thing. About Catholic politicians who support abortion and types of things clearly against the faith of the Church Jesus founded, Jesus could say, “These people may have come to Church a few times, may have even me in some of the sacraments, but they’re not my followers.” About people who claim they’re good Christians but never show up to worship God on Sundays, Jesus could say, “These people are not my disciples.” About people who even come to Mass each week but violate the vows of their marriage, Jesus could say “they may attend Mass, they may call themselves my followers, but these are not my disciples.”

6) Jesus lists three conditions for being his followers. And if we want to truly be his followers, and not just those who “tag along,” we must, beginning today, try to respond to the graces of the Lord to put them into action. Being Jesus’ true disciple means putting God first in everything, treating his as God, not just as someone important. We want to build ourselves into a spiritual edifice. We want to fight a war against evil, so that the Evil One won’t defeat us. We want to one day come to experience the fullness of joy in heaven. So like those in the Gospel, we have to be smart about the means. And Jesus gives us those means in today’s Gospel.

7) First we cannot be his disciple, he tells us, unless we “hate” father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, indeed very self. This word “hate” in Hebrew does not mean what we use it to express in English. It doesn’t mean not-loving another, or even wishing the other ill, but rather it means not loving that person or thing above something else. To “hate” the members of our families means not to let them take precedence over Jesus. To be Jesus’ true disciple, we have to love him above all of family members, above our very selves. The example of the faith of Abraham is again very helpful. Although he loved his son, Isaac, he “hated” him in this sense, because he was willing even to sacrifice his Son if God were really asking him to do it. Would we sacrifice our relationships with our family members if we were required to by God? Jesus unites spouses in Christian marriage and wants them to love each other, but he also wants to be clear that marriage and family, if true, is meant to help the members of the family become better disciples, not worse ones. Yet family excuses are often the most often heard excuses about why people don’t take their faith more seriously. Father Jim and I could pay off the debt for the new addition by ourselves if we received $10 for every time someone gave an excuse for not attending Mass that used the family. “I have to work to support the wife and kids.” “I had to take my kid to play ball.” “My parents don’t go to Mass and I have to help them around the house.” Jesus says clearly that to be his disciple means putting him first, which means putting everything else, family, friends, even ourselves, second. If we’re not willing to do that, we might not be evil or bad, but we’re not his disciples.

8 ) I’ll take the third condition second. Jesus says that no one can be his disciple unless he “renounces all his possessions.” Does that means we have to liquidate our bank accounts, sell our homes, cars, everything? No, not necessarily, but it does mean that our attitude toward all of them needs to change. First and foremost, we cannot worship them. As Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, you cannot serve both God and money: you either hate one and love the other or love one and hate the other. Renouncing our possessions means viewing all of them on loan by God for carrying out our discipleship, that they’re not “ours” to do with as we please, but they’re God’s, and we’re stewards of them, to do with them as God would want. And what would God want a disciple to do with them? He’d certainly want him to use it to take care of his legitimate needs and the needs of his family, for food, shelter, education, etc. But then he’d want them to be used for doing good deeds, for building up his kingdom. For helping out those less fortunate. For assisting the Church. For underwriting good charities. Every dollar the true disciple earns need to seen as on loan from God, for which we’ll be a steward. I met once a Catholic multi-millionaire, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, Tom Monaghan. He sold Domino’s about 10 years ago. Since then he has been rather public that he wants to die penniless. He’s since built a new Catholic university. He’s built several Catholic grammar schools. He’s supported countless good projects. He’s not wasting the money, giving to everyone who asks, but he’s a good steward, generously supporting those projects that he deems worthwhile. We’re not Catholic multi-millionaires. But with whatever we have, we should have the same desire as he does to use these blessings to do good and not just to adorn a bank account or a house.

9) The final condition Jesus lists in today’s Gospel is that we cannot be his disciple unless we take up our Cross and follow Jesus. Elsewhere in the Gospel says that we have to take up this Cross every day. We hear this expression so often, particularly in Lent, that we can sometimes no longer think about what it means. Jesus is telling us that to be his disciple we have to pick up our Crosses every day and follow him. Sometimes I think Catholics imagine this as putting a sack of difficulties on their shoulders and carrying them without complaining. Bearing with burdens during the day. But what Jesus means is much more than that. He’s asking us to pick up the object on which we will be CRUCIFIED, on which we will be killed. He’s asking us every day to pick up this Cross to die on it, to die to ourselves, to die out of love, just as he did. Every day he wants us, despite the cost or the hardship, to die to ourselves by giving of ourselves out of love for Him and for those he died for. To make those sacrifices necessary to help others. To put others first, to lay down our lives for them, to love them as he loves them. It’s not the pain or the difficulty which is Jesus’ point main point, but rather the love which makes bearing those difficulties or hardships bearable. He says we’ve got to be willing to die to ourselves every day out of love for others. Someone who’s a “taker” rather than a complete self-giver, cannot be his disciple. Someone who turns his back on another when the other is in need, because it would require too much sacrifice, cannot be his disciple.

10) Discipleship involves all three of these things. If we want to be his disciples, to treat him as God all our days, we have to do each of these things. To achieve the goal of discipleship, union with God, we have to make intelligent use of the means to get there. The means involves, as he says, putting him first which means putting everything else second, including the good things of this world that he has blessed us with, family and goods. Then it means giving of ourselves all the way out of love, picking up our Crosses and bearing those sacrifices out of love, dying to ourselves each day, and thereby opening ourselves up to the transforming power of Jesus’ love. The means also involves making those concrete decisions to follow Jesus more closely. To ask the question, if I want to be a great disciple, and not just a fan, what do I have to do? Sunday Mass is a must. Prayer every day. Perhaps daily Mass. The other sacraments. Bible Study. Coming to confession to receive God’s grace to overcome those faults and sins that weigh us down. God has given us everything we need in order to be able to become his disciple, we just have to choose to open up and employ each of these gifts. At this Mass we have the chance once more to enter into his loving death and resurrection, to die in his death so that we might rise with his life. We have the chance this Mass to make a real commitment to becoming his true disciples. He’ll give us all the help we need. It’s our choice, on which so much depends.