Year C: Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sayings on Discipleship
Great crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and addressed them, “If any one 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.” “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.
- . In what ways do you find it hard to put Jesus and your relationship with him above all else?
- What planning could you do in regard to time and possessions that would enable you to be a more faithful disciple?
- What does renouncing “possessions” mean for you and how do you go about this, how is it working?
When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he was not enlisting part-time or seasonal volunteers; he was calling those who would be his own to total, unconditional and persevering commitment. This truth is borne out very clearly in today’s Gospel.
Still en route to Jerusalem, where he would teach the ultimate lesson in discipleship, Jesus is presented here as addressing “great crowds” (v. 25). From this story’s literary context, it appears that Jesus’ words were being directed to those who had been invited to the messianic banquet (Luke 14:21, 23). However, as they would learn, the banquet was just the first step. Those invited would also be asked to drink deeply of the cup of suffering (Luke 32:42), which Jesus would drink to the dregs. Note the invitation was not merely for the Twelve but for all who believe.
Structurally, this Gospel is comprised of a catena of challenges to discipleship, and two parables on the wisdom of being knowledgeable and prepared for the mission. Like many Semitisms, Jesus’ shocking challenge to hate one’s parents, spouse and family is harsh. However, hate in this instance did not mean animosity but detachment in the strongest possible terms. This should not be mistaken for renouncing one’s familial responsibilities, an action for which Jesus castigated the Pharisees (Mark 7:12). Rather, discipleship calls for a reordering of one’s values and priorities so that Jesus is one’s first love, before family, before self (vv. 26, 27).
This love will enable and empower disciples to take up their cross, i.e., to meet, accept and deal with all the demands and challenges inherent in following Jesus. Elsewhere in his Gospel, Luke would add the modifiers “daily” (9:23) and “after me” (23:26) to stress the disciples’ full and ongoing participation in Jesus’ saving death on the cross.
The parables about the tower builder and the warring king underscore the necessity of knowing the cost of discipleship and the willingness to “pay” that cost fully and freely. Both the tower builder and the warring king had to assess what they needed to complete their individual undertakings successfully. What would be the outlay? What were the risks? For the builder and the king, these questions were answered in terms of materials and manpower. How does the disciple answer these questions? The outlay with regard to discipleship is the complete and unconditional gift of ourselves and our time, talent and treasure. Disciples are also to cultivate wisdom and practical common sense and are to seek out the advice of others, all the while praying to recognize and accept god’s grace as it is given. In the coming weeks, the Lucan Jesus will continue the formation of his disciples. We, for our part, are to listen and learn.
Cost of Discipleship
Deacon Ross Beaudoin
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives a clear call and instruction on “discipleship.” Being a disciple is more than being a follower. We see instances in the Gospels of people who were followers of Jesus who turned away when they were challenged to become disciples. Discipleship involves accepting and integrating into our lives the teachings and values of the one whose disciple we become.
One clear experience of discipleship for me has to do with encountering and living with the poor at the border of Mexico. A group of us were living with other volunteers in Tijuana. Those who were guiding our experience had specific challenges for us. Among them was that we eat what was offered and not seek our own food. Another was to beg outside a grocery store, asking for food for those who were hungry. A third challenge was that we set aside things that used energy — such as hair dryers, etc. — that the poor probably did not own and couldn’t afford the utility bill to operate.
In this experience, we were challenged to internalize and activate the message of what it means to live in solidarity with people of God who do without much of what we considered ordinary, or even necessary. We were challenged to become disciples of Jesus.
Some of our group accepted the challenges. Some struggled with them and decided to go along only for the time being. A few rejected the challenges outright. Those who fully accepted the challenges became disciples.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus lays out a clear challenge to his followers. To paraphrase: “You must not let any person in this world stand in the way of your following me.” “Figure out what it is going to take for you to become my disciple. Don’t be unprepared.” And, finally, “Renounce any possessions that stand in the way of being my disciple.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor in the first half of the 20th century, wrote a book titled The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer himself knew that cost firsthand. As a disciple of Jesus, Bonhoeffer risked everything, including his life, in order to resist Hitler and the spread of Nazism.
Bonhoeffer contrasted the cost of discipleship with what he called “cheap grace.” Cheap grace implies that the believer wants to have forgiveness without really being repentant, to have baptism without living the life of the church, to have Communion without really believing, and to be a disciple without accepting the cross. In other words, cheap grace means wanting to be a Christian without Jesus Christ!
In contrast to “cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer defines the costly grace of discipleship this way: “Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a person to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ ”
Bonhoeffer argues that as Christianity spread, the church became involved with the state, and secularization set in. The call to discipleship became exclusive to religious professionals like monks and nuns. Ordinary Christians, even some clergy, saw their Christian life as a practice of keeping rules rather than submitting to the “yoke of Christ” in full discipleship.
Today it is still as true as it was in the time of Jesus: Not all followers are disciples, but all followers are called to become disciples.