23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - A Tough Road to Follow

The Lord is on his way to Jerusalem.  He turns and speaks to the great crowds who were traveling with him.  What Jesus says to them is an indication that his journey was about to end and that choices had to be made.  If there were any among them who were planning on going only a short distance as some kind of part-time followers, this would have been a good point to drop out and turn back.  This would have been a good moment to give it up and return to their loved ones and former lives. 

Jesus makes it clear that one can’t be a part-time or casual disciple.  He tells us right up front that we can only follow Him if we are willing to die to self and surrender our control over our own lives. There's no looking back. There's no going back.  To walk in the footsteps of the Master means to put aside self, willingly, generously, and with absolute trust. It means giving without measuring the cost. It means putting our hands to the plow and not looking back. It means putting on Christ, allowing him to live in us and through us. By His grace, we deny self, we pick up the cross, we lose our life... but we are absolutely certain that with Him we shall inherit the fullness of life and happiness, forever.

There are demands placed on those who would join Jesus on his journey.  Those who were present that day were just as confused and stunned by Jesus’ words as we are today.  They may have been poor, but they cherished possessions too and, like us, probably wanted or needed more of them.  Family life, if anything, was even more precious to Jesus' contemporaries.  While we prize individuality and being able to "go it on our own," at that time, a person's very identity depended on membership in family, clan and religious sect.  Prestige and reputation were intimately linked to the social standing people had in their social network.  If a person at that time packed up and decided to set out on their own - they would, in effect, lose their identity.

But Jesus calls us to a new family.  And being a disciple gives us a new identity.  As his followers we are in a new network of relationships, a new family that consists of those who have, like us, chosen to follow Jesus.  In this family we will be mixing it up with a whole new set of people - those with and those without wealth and social status.  Jesus has come to establish something very different from our usual ways of relating to one another, and because of Him, things can never be the same as they used to be.

The Gospel today sounds particularly harsh. We are challenged constantly to choose again and again to be Jesus’ disciples.  He makes no empty promises..  In fact, he makes it quite clear that following him will cost us.  “Think it over,” Jesus says.  Be like a person who is about to build a tower - will you be able to finish the job?  Be like a king going to battle and "decide" if you can win the battle with the resources you have. 

As followers of Christ, we are in a “process of becoming.”  Even though we may have already given our commitment to follow Christ, there are times in our lives when we are asked to make choices that put our discipleship on the line.  Some options require us to reject what seems like the attractive or easier ways of acting. These choices may put us at odds with family, friends or our surrounding culture; but we know we must choose in ways that echo the good news that we believe. 

The parables of the tower builder and the warring king are simple enough, but the sayings on discipleship that surround them are some of the most radical in the Gospel.  They are not difficult to understand, but are immensely demanding to practice.  The Gospel tells us today that to be a disciple of Jesus, one must be willing to let go of what one values most: familiar relationships, possessions, and even one’s own life.  Jesus names some of the strongest attachments that would be difficult for anyone to leave aside when called into the community of believers and to participate in his mission. 

We are invited all through our lives to continue the journey and to choose again to be Jesus’ disciples.  We know that we have been less than fully responsive to our Christian vocation.  But day by day, led by His Spirit, we can renew our commitment and continue following him on the road.

There is an urgency in Jesus' words today. The invitation to follow has been made. The choice is ours.