Last week, Fr John asked us the challenging question of why we follow Jesus. Today’s gospel reading prompts the equally challenging question of how do we follow Jesus? And the answer isn’t a particularly easy one.
Right at the start of the passage, Jesus says “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.“
That’s pretty heavy stuff, especially as, at first glance, it appears to go against everything we’ve previously seen in scripture about the family, in particular the fifth commandment which tells us to honour our father and mother.
But don’t panic! Before we all start hating our biological families or going through a sense of self loathing through hatred of our own lives, we need to take a look at the translation There is a strange idiom in the Hebrew language where to make a comparison between two things is to love the one thing and to hate the other. This is seen, for instance, in Genesis where we read that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and that Leah was “hated” by Jacob.
This is rather like going to the table at the back of church after Mass this morning and being asked if you want tea or coffee. You think “well, I like coffee but right now I’d really like a cup of tea”. In Hebrew, that would translate as “I love tea, so I hate coffee”.
So, Jesus isn’t asking us literally to hate our families and our own lives, but rather to offer him our undivided loyalty. Here, Jesus was challenging the establishment of the day. The family was at the heart of Judaism, but Jesus was building a new family around himself. Those who followed him would incur the wrath of their Jewish contemporaries.
So, following Jesus comes at a cost – “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.“ Back then, talking of carrying the cross was not just a metaphor. It was a very real threat of a long, painful and humiliating execution at the hands of the Roman authorities for going against the status quo.
The two short parables that follow illustrate this cost. The first tells of a landowner building a tower, probably for storing goods. If he hasn’t costed the job properly, the project runs the risk of remaining unfinished due to lack of funds. The end result would be ridicule from everyone who sees the half built structure on his land.
The second story is about a king assessing the number of troops he has in comparison with his enemy who has far more troops. If he can’t win with the number of soldiers he has (which, let’s face it is the most likely scenario) the only sensible course of action is to negotiate with his enemy long before they meet in battle.
Jesus is calling us to a discipleship that’s not cheap, not easy and not to be entered into without serious consideration of the cost.
Last week’s gospel reading, spoke very much about the blessings we can receive – the invitation we get from God. It spoke about the redemption and freedom that Jesus brings and the inclusive nature of God’s kingdom which helps us answer Fr John’s question about why we follow Jesus. This passage we heard this morning follows in immediately from that in Luke’s gospel and appears to be in stark contrast to what had come immediately before.
This passage contains some very difficult sayings of Jesus. I’m sure we all find it much easier to think about the grace that comes from God and, believe me, it’s much easier to prepare and write a sermon when talking about the nice things that Jesus said! I suspect that a lot of preachers this morning may well be taking the easy way out and basing their sermons on either the Old Testament reading or the Epistle!
But while it’s much easier both to preach about and to listen to the more comfortable teachings of the gospel, we still have to take on board the more difficult stuff, because in doing so, we realise that it’s not as bad as it might appear.
Jesus is calling us into a relationship. No relationship can last without commitment and sacrifice from both sides. Jesus, of course, paid the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, which we remember every week as we break the bread at the Mass. Putting aside the importance of material possessions seems pretty small in comparison, doesn’t it?
There are no rules or conditions as to what following Jesus means to any of us, but we must be ready to count the cost.
You are probably familiar with the hymn “Will you come and follow me?”. A verse on that hymn sums up what it means to take up the call to follow Jesus:
Will You Leave Yourself Behind
If I But Call Your Name?
Will You Care For Cruel And Kind
And Never Be The Same?
Will You Risk The Hostile Stare
Should Your Life Attract Or Scare?
Will You Let Me Answer Prayer
In You And You In Me?
If we are happy to answer “yes” to any of that, then we are ready to take up the cross and follow Jesus.
So as Fr John did last week, I leave you with a question. Let’s go away from here this morning and think “how shall I follow Jesus?”