In Luke 14:25-33 we read that large crowds were coming to Jesus. The movement He started with a dozen men was swelling with converts. How pleased the disciples must have been. They had risked all, now their investment must have seemed like a gold mine. How confident and successful they appeared surrounded by popular appeal and growing numbers. It seemed the sky was the limit.
Until Jesus opened His mouth and said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Talk about letting the air out of the balloon. What a career-ending sound-bite that would make on the evening news. Hate parents and family? Jesus, tell us You do not mean it. You are the one who taught us to love even our enemies.
Why are You making the conditions so hard? Why make us choose between You and our family? Couldn’t Christianity be more successful and popular if You eased up on us all? Are You sure You know what You are doing? Jesus, of course, knew what He was doing. He wanted to make sure those following Him knew what they were doing. He wants to alert would-be followers that the hill is steep in the places that they will be asked to climb.
Jesus knew that the crowd surrounding Him was not ready for the journey that awaits them as His followers. To follow Christ is a risk because faith is not just nice thoughts and feelings. It determines your life, who you are and what you do. Christ came to call us to bear a cross, not just attend Palm Sunday Parades. The saying about hating family is shocking, but not as shocking as it sounds to our ears. In the first century, to hate in such a comparative statement means to love less than when St. Matthew translates the same sayings.
Jesus says, “If you love your family more than Me, you cannot be My disciple.” Is Jesus advocating a renunciation of all family loyalties? No, Jesus picked the most cherished and most honorable of earthly relationships to illustrate a point. Even the highest and noblest of relationships must pale in comparison to the love and loyalty to God. The lesson is plain to see.
Jesus does not want followers who naively rush into discipleship. Without knowing what is involved, He is clear about the price and cost of discipleship. Jesus wants His followers to count the cost so that they can become full-blooded disciples. To paraphrase St. Ignatius, “Perseverance in discipleship means giving without counting the cost.” Fighting without heeding the wounds, toiling without seeking rest and laboring without asking for reward, save that of knowing that you are doing His work.”
Today’s message is that nothing in our lives comes before God. But, this is not new. We have heard it all before. You shall love the Lord, Your God, with your whole heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. The Ten Commandments tell us, “I am the Lord, your God, and you shall have no other God’s before Me.” As Jesus told us, “I am the way the truth and the life. There is no other.”