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.
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.
Disciples are called 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.
As such, 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.
There is an urgency in Jesus' words today. The invitation to follow has been made.
Beneath the surface of our lives as Christians, this same challenge is played out again and again. We will be tested as a faith community. Jesus will ask us to walk in His footsteps, to take our place among the ranks, to follow the narrow road, to meet with opposition and misunderstanding - perhaps even from our own families and those who love us - and, in many ways, to take up our crosses and die with Him.
As Daniel Berrigan once said: "If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood."
The choice is ours.