Jun 25, 2016

13th Sunday - How much does it cost?

"I will follow you . . . go and proclaim the kingdom of God"

1 Kg 19: 16, 19-21
Gal 5: 1, 13-14, 16, 18
Lk 9: 51, 57-62

O God, who through the grace of adoption
chose us to be children of light, 
grant, we pray,
that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error
but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth. 

(Roman Missal: Collect of Mass)

In this land where we have an abundance of nearly everything, unlike so many other parts of the world, the cost of daily living is as much a genuine concern as for all citizens across the globe. Yet, we live in a culture that says you can have it all and that can be very tempting at times and expensive. What’s wrong with one more of the same thing?  And if two are good wouldn’t three or four be better?  

Whether it be clothing, a restaurant meal, technology, education, a new car, a home, medical services or whatever we are often singularly focused on getting the most we can for the best price.  The game show “Let’s make a deal” is a kind of mantra of our economic system. I remember my Father in his retail business would always counsel us to “Never pay retail but only look for things on wholesale.”  If he came home and proudly proclaimed, “I got it wholesale!” we would laugh and congratulate him for his wise business choice.

Our Gospel this Sunday is a continuation by theme of Jesus teaching last week on discipleship. This time we hear of how much we must pay.  Last Sunday (Lk 9: 18-24) we were advised: “If anyone wishes to come after me . . . he must take up his cross daily . . .” This weekend (Lk 9: 51-62) Jesus continues to teach about the cost of discipleship.  In response to requests by those who in various ways stated: “I will follow you wherever you go” Jesus demands: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  In other words, we must be single focused on Christ and his mission, leaving behind all other attachments and distractions, then follow in the way Jesus shows us – to carry out and live his mission in the world today whether we be married, single, ordained or religious.

So, let’s see: a daily cross and a renunciation of all other attachments, including familial relationships to a certain degree, to follow him.  I don’t know about you but on the surface I don’t find that particularly attractive at times.  In fact, it may sound a bit over- the – top and certainly no bargain. It’s quite a price to pay for Christian discipleship and does not promise the easy way.  It’s somewhat insecure with no guarantee of success or a positive outcome; certainly not fame, fortune or popularity; maybe for Jesus but for me too? Yet, on a deeper level, which is where we are always called to go with Jesus’ teaching, there is something more convincing. What would that be?

This Gospel takes place as Jesus is going up to Jerusalem, meets a not unexpected hostile reception as he and his disciples travel through Samaritan territory, and he calms down the hot headed reaction of James and John to that rejection: “. . . call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 

The point of this journey for Jesus, and for us, is the single focus of his life on the mission entrusted to him.  He is traveling face forward as it were, without flinching, without looking back or holding on, to carry out his ultimate prize – our salvation through his death and resurrection.  It becomes a journey with us as well as for him and the model of Christian discipleship. We are like the disciples who followed him to that Jerusalem.

So, this talk of the “dead bury their dead” and to “not look to what was left behind” is another way of saying that for all of us, we need to find our Jerusalem.  Do we live our Christian lives and our rich Catholic traditions in a way that sees them as treasures above all else or is that just another thing we do?  Jesus’ single minded commitment to his mission is the model and road we should always stay on as we live our Christian lives. That’s quite a “price” to pay in a world that says you can have it all because we must choose between

Paul in our second reading from Galatians I think refers to the daily battle we all face: that between the tensions of spirit and flesh; between the material world we live in with all of it beauty and advantages, its challenges and rewards and the world of the spirit, which calls us to higher values that demand sacrifice and overcoming our own tendency to take the easy way or to satisfy ourselves through some form of instant pleasure.  We must balance our lives as we live in these two worlds at once.  For, as Paul reminds us, “For freedom Christ set us free . . . you were called for freedom.” To live and to “serve one another through love” rather than argument and revenge is what Christ calls us to as we journey to our Jerusalem. 

It all ultimately comes down to how we choose to live in this world. How we choose to grow spiritually and in right relationship with one another. How we choose to live by greed and self-centeredness or to live by generosity and compassion; by forgiveness and charity towards our neighbor. If we freely choose to follow Jesus, then we must learn from his example and walk in his way.  It may cost us more than we bargain for but imagine the pay off in the end – eternal life. There is a very good reason why Pope Francis entitled his first official Apostolic Exhortation the "Joy of the Gospel." 

As we gather to break open word and bread with each other, we welcome Christ among us and once again renew our promise of discipleship, no matter how much it cost – priceless.