23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, C THE INCOMPARABLE PRIORITY

“If any man comes to Me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14: 26)

On this 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C, we are still accompanying Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. After His Transfiguration (Luke 9: 28-36) and the foretelling of His Death ((9: 43-45), Luke reports in 9: 51: “When the days drew near for Him to be received up, He set His face to got to Jerusalem.” As we walk along with Jesus, His apostles, disciples and the great crowd that kept gathering from one town to another, we learn so much from His examples and teachings – He sent forth seventy disciples to go ahead of Him; the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Rich fool, the Barren Fig Tree, the Mustard Seed, the Great Banquet; a stopover at Mary’s and Martha’s; the Miracles and Healings of the Crippled Woman, the Man with Dropsy; the Lord’s Prayer and other Teachings on the Need to Persevere in Prayer, the Necessity of Watchfulness, the Hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the Faithful and the Unfaithful servant, the Narrow Door, the Kingdom of God, and on Humility and Hospitality, which we reflected on last Sunday. On this journey, we have to bear in mind that Jesus knows where He is going and He knows exactly what is going to happen to Him. This explains why He was using every opportunity to attend to the questions and issues raised from the crowd (Luke 10: 25; 11: 1; 13: 23) and to teach about the Kingdom and what it takes to follow Him, or to be His disciple, which is the theme of our reflection today.

“Great crowds accompanied Jesus on His way and He turned and spoke to them”: The idea of “Great crowds” implies popularity. No doubt Jesus was popular, very popular in deed. But Jesus was not after such mundane attention and attraction, as politicians and celebrities of today. He was not after numbers and quantity, but was interested in commitment and quality – men and women who would be prepared to pass through the “narrow door” for His sake (Luke 13: 24). It became very necessary then to emphatically declare what was involved in following Him in order to sift the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 13: 24-30). Each of us is a part of the “Great crowds”, and the message today is for us. Are we just going along? How far are we prepared to go with Him? Shall we follow Him to Jerusalem? Shall we accompany Him on His Passion? Or, shall we too go away?

“If any man comes to Me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be My disciple”: This is very straight and strange coming from Jesus. Would the One Who teach us to “Love our enemies” now turn around to ask us to “hate” our parents, family members and even our own lives? This is to reveal how stark and uncompromising the call and the sacrifice Jesus is inviting us to undertake is. However, He does not mean that we should “hate” as having ill will against someone. Jesus is here employing a communication technique known as “rhetorical hyperbole” that exaggerates the negative in order to emphasise the positive, to make it memorable and to emphasise His point. We have a similar usage in Mark 9: 43-47, where Jesus said: “If your right hand … your foot … your right eye causes you to sin, cut it off …” Thus, Jesus does not intend us to understand Him literarily, but He is obviously stating the fact that if anyone wants to follow Him, he must be prepared to love Him as an incomparable priority. We can understand what Jesus is saying here when we read Matthew 10: 37 – “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me”.  The love of Christ demands that we detach from all affiliations including the most primordial ones like the family and self. It is a relationship that demands us to “hate” the old man, the old life, the old desires and begin afresh to love and embrace the new man living the new life inspired by new desires of Spirit in purity and love (2 Corinthians 5: 17). This relationship with Jesus demands also that we cut off from material possessions so that we cling to nothing, trust in nothing, rely on nothing and hope in nothing but in Him. Therefore, He declares: “So, in the same way, none of you can be My disciple unless he gives up all his possessions” (Luke 14: 33). This love is not only exclusive but sacrificial; it is a love that is soaked in the sponge of vinegar, which we must drink. And therefore He concludes: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after Me is not worthy of Me” (Luke 14: 27).

Count the Cost: Having known these, are you prepared? Is that what you bargained for? Can you continue the walk into Jerusalem with Him? Jesus is asking us these questions and more with the parables of the man who intended to build a tower and the king who set out for war against his opponent. He wants us to count the cost before making a decision to follow; for no one who puts his hand on the plough and looks aback is worthy of Him (Luke 9: 62). Discipleship is a calling that we respond to, not based on our merits, and without depending on our efforts. God makes the choice and gives His grace. It is our duty to seek the Wisdom of God, which the First Reading (Wisdom 9: 13-18) presents to us as that which is not decipherable by mere human knowledge. This same Jesus has been given to us as the Wisdom of God, Who has come to lead us to the Father. We, who were slaves, like Onesimus, in the Second Reading (Philemon 9-10, 12-17), have been redeemed through Christ and offered to the Father, not as slaves any longer, but as daughters and sons through Christ Jesus, Who died for us. It is easier therefore for us to understand that Jesus is not simply inviting us to Himself but as the Way to the Father, Who we can only reach by freely and selflessly embracing the cross.