Sep 3, 2016

23rd Sunday - Followers or Disciples?

"In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple."

Wis 9: 13-18B
Phmn 9-10, 12=17
Lk 14: 25-33

A Catholic school teacher once asked her eager 10 year old students to hold up their hands if they would give $1 million to the missionaries. All their hands went up immediately and they shouted “Yes.” She then pushed the point further and asked if they would give $1,000, then $100 and each time they eagerly all waved their hands in the air and shouted a firm “Yes.”

Then she asked a final time if they would give even $1 to the missionaries.  They once again shouted “Yes” except for one boy who did not raise his hand this time.  The teacher asked him “Why didn’t you say ‘Yes” this time?” 

The boy said, “Well, I actually have a dollar.” When reality hits, can we really follow through? What about Jesus’ own words about the true cost of being his disciple? He reminds us there is a price to pay for true followers like the crowds around him (Lk 14: 25-33) if they want to become his disciples.

Over the last several Sunday’s Jesus has been rather harsh in our choice of Gospels as he lays out for us his demands of Christian discipleship – and they have not been comfortable.  We’ve heard about divisiveness in families over matters of faith, about humility, and the narrow gate to salvation. This Sunday we hear Jesus speaking of hate towards family members and about renouncing all possessions.  These are tough words. Is he asking the impossible for the average person?

One point that can help is to remember that the original Scriptures were not written in American English.  Nor were they written in any other language except ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Later they were translated into Latin by St. Jerome and much later in the 16th century began translations into the language of the general population.  So every Bible we read is a translation of a translation.  While the Scripture scholars make great efforts to be faithful to original meanings, it doesn’t always translate exactly.  Yet, the true meaning remains. 

So, when we read words such as ‘hate” in today’s context, we have to know it may not be a perfect mesh with its exact original implication.  Yet, the word is a strong one and Jesus’ demand is not wishy-washy.  The clincher is at the end of today’s Gospel passage: “Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. So Jesus words imply both a requirement and a certain attitude towards what I may consider is of great value in my life.  What or who can I not live without?  What or who is my most precious possession?  What or who might I consider irreplaceable?  Most of us would always choose people over possessions but is Jesus asking more?

For those families who may have experienced the loss of their home in a fire or some other personal disaster, they would often say: “We may have lost the home but everyone is safe and unharmed. We are grateful because the rest is only stuff that can be replaced but we could never replace our children or spouse.”  How true.

But, today Jesus words about “hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister, even his own life . . .” can really cause us to question Jesus.

The same may be true about the images he uses in the Gospel of a builder and a King who marches into battle.  They make great efforts to calculate and plan their next move.  They measure carefully in order to construct a building that will be strong and last many years and they calculate the size of the opposing army in relation to their own. All this takes a certain common sense and skill. Yet, is this some sort of backhanded approval of military action?

So putting this all together, and understanding that Jesus’ words may imply a different kind of “hate” in its original context we may find his call to discipleship may not be as heart wrenching in its implication as first impresses. Still, it is a serious challenge that demands an assessment of our priorities..

If hate implies an effort to reassess our priorities then we may understand what our Lord is asking of us. So, really the implication is not to “hate” family members in the sense of hostility but more to greatly prefer something else when faced with a choice.  That “something else” would be to follow the Lord; to live by his values and morals and to prefer nothing else that would be less than that. In the same way, to not be attached to people or possessions in a way that would distract me from the higher value of following the Lord.  Ultimately, to know that even when it comes to family and the “stuff” I have, when in conflict, I would always choose God above all others.

Christian history has provided many inspiring examples of those who took these words literally:  St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Moore, and now St. Teresa of Calcutta among many others.  So, while it may seem daunting we know with the grace of God all is possible. These were not just followers of the Lord – they were true disciples of Jesus and that is where we are all called to go.

So, this is another example of the highest of goals that Jesus invites all of us to reach for. This is the better way to live and the higher pole to jump over. Yet, it may certainly take some time.  Conversion is a daily process of prayer, reflection, common sense, and perseverance. Like the builder and the King in the Gospel, we must also be calculating in the overall value we place upon our life of faith and our relationship with God

So, maybe basic question to ask ourselves is “Am I a follower of Christ or am I his disciple?”  In my personal Catholic faith, do I just follow the Church and its teachings or am I truly committed to them?  Pope Francis has assured us that without the Church, one cannot come to know the Lord Jesus in his fullness.  Only in and through the Church Christ founded does he operate fully and invite us to embrace the fullness of his proposal to humanity towards conversion and new life. To know this is great Wisdom as our first reading reminds us this Sunday.

As the saying goes, “Not all followers are disciples but all followers are called to become disciples.”

A Prayer by Mother Teresa

Dear Jesus help us to spread your fragrance 
everywhere we go
Flood our souls with your Spirit and life
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul
Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus.
Stay with us and then and then we shall begin to shine as you shine,
so too shine as to be a light to others.

St. Teresa of Calcutta
Disciple of Mercy
Pray for us