Discipleship’s Demands

User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 4

We must follow Christ and take up our own crosses.
We must follow Christ and take up our own crosses. (photo: Shutterstock)

Sunday, Sept. 4, is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18b; Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus defines four demands of discipleship.


Context

Large crowds were following Jesus, and so he turned to address them. Just about any time you find mention of a big crowd in the Bible, prepare for a hard teaching. Jesus didn’t trust large crowds. They were looking for miracles, for multiplied (and free) bread, for physical healings, and for a fiery sermon, rather than conversion. 

In such situations, Jesus gives a series of hard teachings, which seem almost designed to thin the ranks to distinguish true disciples. Jesus says elsewhere, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13), and, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). 

So, the context of discipleship is not usually with the crowd. Only a few make the cut.

 

Centrality 

Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Now the use of the word “hate” here does not mean that we are to have contempt or nourish unrighteous anger toward others. What we are dealing with here is an ancient Jewish idiom. If one would say, “I love vanilla but hate chocolate,” this really means that I strongly prefer vanilla to chocolate, not that I actually hate chocolate. So what Jesus means is that we cannot prefer anyone or anything to him. He must have absolute priority over even the closest human relationships in your life. If there’s anyone in your life who can talk you out of obeying God or can pull you into unrighteousness, he has too much power. No one is to have priority over Jesus Christ and what he teaches. 

 

Cross

Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” If we want to be a disciple, we must be willing to carry the cross. It is a simple rule: no cross, no crown. There are some who want to preach a prosperity gospel. There are others who demand a gospel stripped of its moral imperatives. Still others demand an updated faith that tickles their ears and affirms their aberrant behavior. Jesus points to the cross, not to torture us, but because it is the only way to glory. Jesus is not into pain for its own sake, but because sacrifice brings blessings.

 

Cost 

Discipleship is costly. Jesus gives the images of someone building a tower and of a king going into battle. These examples may seem distant to us, so Jesus “brings it home” by saying, “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Ultimately, we must say farewell to everyone and everything we consider precious here in order to inherit heaven. Many things attach us to this world and make discipleship difficult. Are we willing to simplify and declutter our lives and commit to focus on being disciples? 

What’s it going to be: the world or the Kingdom? 

Count the cost. It is a wise man or woman who gives away what he cannot keep in order to gain what he could never buy.

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