On the Gospel of Luke (14:25-33)
On a first reading this Sunday’s Gospel seems quite hard. Having to “hate his own father and mother and wife […] and even [ones] own life” (Luk 14:26 RSV) in order to be a disciple of Jesus seems almost outrageous.
The obvious option would seem not to take this saying of Jesus literally. The family was a very important aspect in Jewish society: Moses commanded to “Honour your father and your mother” (Mar 7:10 RSV). Even Jesus himself rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting this command as “[they] no longer permit [a man] to do anything for his father or mother” (Mar 7:11-13 RSV) if they give everything to God (Corban).
Therefore we need to look at the bigger picture and see what Jesus really means. The Gospel this week is about ( ) total dedication to Jesus. No attachment to family or possessions should come in the way of this total commitment. Jesus warns that acceptance of the call to be a disciple demands readiness to accept persecution and suffering and a realistic assessment of the hardships and costs. The cost involves letting go of everything (even our own life or soul (ψυχην)) and completely subjecting ourselves to Jesus. We are invited to deny our own will to follow the will of God in order to be in complete communion with Him.
At present in modern western society there seems to be emerging a desire for the supernatural or the spiritual. We see more and more New Age movements, all seeking some kind of way to an enlightened human existence as a way of freeing ourselves from the seeming mess most of us feel we are in. Elements in society seem to be searching to make sense of something that makes little if any sense to them. They are looking for a security in something higher, even the supernatural, although this might not be acknowledged directly in some Western countries, who tend to see themselves as completely secular and non-religious. Yet at this time we are seeing the growth in prime time programs on TV in which ‘gifted’ people come in contact which the supernatural world and are able to rely ‘messages’. While it is tempting to start to think how this works and where or from whom these messages come, the important point is that even when religion, strictly speaking, is put aside human being have a natural inclination for the supernatural; we are spiritual beings.
But yet while people have this “natural inclination for the supernatural” why are they not turning to the Gospel and the wonderful Christian heritage? The reason I think is that they have never encountered the full beauty of it. Christianity is often rejected because those rejecting it simply do not really know the real beauty, or simply do not understand it. It is the message which Jesus gives us in the Gospel today: “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luk 14:27 RSV) and “whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luk 14:33 RSV)
The Good News is not some ‘self help program’ which is designed to make somebody personally feel good for some time. It is not some quick fix for all the problems which we encounter in our human existence and neither does it provide a temporary escape from reality. Instead it encompasses the whole of human existence and transforms it into something good and beautiful. By picking up the cross and following Jesus, by renouncing all that is not of God we orientate our lives towards God and walk with Him towards the fullness of life.
This way of life is a way which leads to union with God and one another, leading us away from selfishness and puts us on the path of love. In the Gospel of this Sunday Jesus is warning us that the road is not always smooth and at times it can be quiet challenging. He warns us that we have to sacrifice ourselves in order to become the persons we are made to be, that we should really count the cost and see if becoming whole is really what we want. But He also promises that “[His] yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light.” (Mat 11:30 RSV)