Wednesday of week 31 of Ordinary Time – Gospel


Commentary on Luke 14:25-33

Luke’s gospel is noteworthy for its extremes. On the one hand, it shows the radical and uncompromising demands that Jesus makes on those who would be his followers and, at the same time, emphasises as none of the other gospels do the gentleness and compassion of Jesus for the sinful and the weak. Both pictures have always to be kept simultaneously in view and they are in no way contradictory. Today and tomorrow we will see both of these images of Jesus back to back.

In today’s passage we see Jesus, as was often the case, surrounded by a huge crowd of people. They are full of enthusiasm and expectation but Jesus very quickly pulls them up short. If anyone comes after him, Jesus says, and is not prepared to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and indeed his very own self, he cannot be accepted as a disciple. This is a very shocking demand, especially for a society where people’s whole lives were centred on their families. Luke is alone in asking that even the wife, too, be abandoned but this is just an example of the totality of our commitment to following Jesus.

However, we have to make two qualifications. The word “hate” is a Semitic expression not to be taken literally. It could not be so taken as the whole of Jesus’ teaching is based on love not only of blood relatives but of strangers and even enemies. It is rather a dramatic way of saying that anyone who puts any person, even those closest to them, before total commitment to Christ and his mission is not ready to be a disciple. There can be no compromise here; it is all or nothing.

We also have to say that Jesus is not recommending a literal abandonment of one’s family. That could be highly irresponsible and a violation of that commandment of universal love. But it is clear that, for those who want to be part of Jesus’ work, they have to give themselves completely and unconditionally. And, where there is a choice between the clear call of the Gospel and personal attachments, they have to let go of the latter.

It is important for the crowd to hear this. Following Christ is not just like football fans stalking their favourite player or ‘groupies’ following a pop star from city to city. There is a price to be paid and they need to know that there is one and what it is. That price is the cross, a level of sacrifice and suffering – perhaps even of one’s life – that each one must be prepared to undergo for the sake of the Gospel and the building of the Kingdom.

So, to illustrate this Jesus gives two examples:

– One is of a man who had a plan to build a tower. Before he started, he made sure that he had all the necessary resources. Otherwise he might find that, after laying the foundations, he could not finish the work and he would become the laughing stock of others. “Ha! Ha! He began to build what he could not finish.”

– In the second example Jesus speaks of a king with 10,000 soldiers who finds he is going to war with another king who has 20,000. If he thinks there is no way he can win, he will send an embassy to negotiate the best peace terms he can get.

Similarly, says Jesus, no one can be a disciple of his who is not ready to let go of everything he has.

The following has to be absolute and unconditional. How many of the crowd listening were ready for that? How many of us are ready for that? Am I ready? And what are the things I am clinging to? What are the things I cannot let go of? And why?

To be a disciple of Jesus means being absolutely free. It reminds one of Francis of Assisi leaving his family and taking off all his rich and fancy clothes to replace them with a beggar’s rags and being filled with a tremendous sense of joy and liberation. Do I want to be a disciple of Jesus? To what extent? Am I ready to pay the price he asks?

The paradox is that once I pay the price I will get so much in return. Ask Francis or Mother Teresa…

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