Last week we heard about Jesus’ dinner invitation with one of the leading Pharisees; we heard that his popularity has been steadily increasing, and that he is becoming a celebrity of sorts. Today, the Gospel depicts a multitude walking with Jesus: “Great crowds were travelling with Him” (Lk 14:25). I can picture Jesus stopping, looking around, and realizing there are all these people with him: the curious-minded, interested in what miracles he might do or what he might say; those who bumped into him along the way; and those who are seeking something in their journey. Jesus then draws a clear distinction between what it means to travel with Jesus, and what it means to follow Jesus. In this distinction, Jesus speaks about three qualities of discipleship, three “conditions” that the disciple must fulfill in order to follow him.
- He takes first place
“If anyone 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 (Lk 14:26). This is Jesus’ first condition of discipleship: He takes first place. For us Christians, Jesus is not a nice compliment to our lives, a lucky charm that is there whenever we need it in times of trial: Jesus is first and foremost the purpose of our life itself. We may live a married life, a single life, or a celibate life, but all those paths are paths of following Christ. It’s sad to hear the excuses that we come up with to not make Christ a priority. We say things like, “Father I haven’t been to mass in five years because my children had band practice,” or, “We have events and activities on Sunday and we don’t have time.” These excuses speak to our priorities. What priority does our faith hold in our life? What priority does Jesus Christ hold in our life? Is following Jesus our primary concern? God is a zealous God. He doesn’t want our spare time; he doesn’t want five minutes here and there, or an hour once a week. God wants all of us. In all our relationships: spousal, familial, friendships, or professional — he wants to be first. It is only when we establish Christ as our first and most important priority that all our other relationships start “falling into place.”
- Renounce all your possessions
“Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). Jesus does not only demand to be the first priority in all of our human relationships, but also in our relationship with our possessions. In fact, he asks us to renounce all of our possessions. To renounce implies a decision, that we must decide to let go of something in favor of something greater; it implies a choice. St Bernard says,
The Christian life starts with a decision, a choice. A choice between the illusions of men, and the assurances of God.
It is that choice that we are also called to make. This renunciation is not only about material possessions, like money or property; often we will find it is about our time, our efforts..
Imagine if I said to you, “This week I want you to live like an atheist. I want you to live your life as though you believed that God didn’t exist.” What would change? What would actually change in your life, and in my life? Would we pray any less? Would we dedicate less time to God? Would our relationships change? Or, save for an hour in the week, would it stay practically the same? To put it positive terms, if you have chosen to follow Christ, don’t be afraid to commit fully and grow in your relationship with him daily! To be Christians, to be disciples of Christ, is not something that starts and ends in Baptism. It is something that we must constantly make present. It is something that we must we actualize everyday. We must be Christians at all times.
- Carry your cross and follow Him
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my Disciple” (Lk 14:27). This is third condition of discipleship, and it is a two-fold one: It’s not only about carrying our cross, it’s about carrying our cross and following Jesus. We don’t need to be perfect in order to follow Christ. It’s important that we remember this, because often we think that only when we are that perfect, accomplished version of ourselves, can we start being that person. The truth is that Christ is calling us now. He calls us right here and right now, whatever our circumstances are, and wherever we are. He calls us with our sufferings, with our burdens, with our sadnesses, and with our joys. He calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him. To love God where we are, and not from where we wish we were.
Three or four years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land; while I was there I met up with a friend, Ibrahim, a Palestinian Christian living across the border from Israel. He shared the details of his life with me; he told me of how woke at three am each day in order to cross the border, make his way to Israel, and start work. When I asked him how his faith affected his daily life, he pulled out d his ID card and said “You see this word? That word has defined my entire existence, It defines where I live, who I can relate to, what salary I am worthy of receiving; it even segregates me from certain parts of the city.” “What does that word mean?” I asked, “It means Christian,” he responded, “For this word, I would give my life. For this word, I would shed every ounce of my blood.” This is a sentiment that we see constantly in the media, as we watch our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East shedding their blood for who they believe in, not for an idea, but for a person, Jesus Christ himself.
What does it look like for us to pick up the cross? St Ignatius of Loyola would say, ágere contra, “work against”: Work against your vices, against your weaknesses. If my weakness is pride, to go against pride is to find occasions to be humble, to not have the last word in every argument, to give way to other people, or to try to forgive in my thoughts. If I struggle against lust, to go against is to guard my gaze at work or social events; to go against is to take care of what I hear and see, and even if it’s not sinful to go against it for the sake of Christ, to carry my cross and follow him. If I struggle with judging others and gossiping, to go against is to find positive ways to be grateful for others, and to make an effort to find the virtue in the other people I tend to criticize. To go against. To go against requires continuous effort, but above all it requires the grace of God, which we will never lack.
Friends, the path to follow Christ can be the greatest adventure of our live, or a very dull one. What path we take depends on where our gaze falls, and what our priorities are. Let us ask the blessed Virgin Mary to show us how to make Christ the first priority in every relationship, to renounce all our possessions, and to pick up our cross and follow her Son.
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