Remember, you are following a Martyr!
Our world today has too many celebrities and very few heroes. Our contemporary culture focuses so much on celebrities. The media hypes up stars in sports, entertainment, and popular culture. Often these celebrities are far from being role models for the younger generation, yet young people have them as their pin-up models. The personal life of these celebrities is often a disaster. The few heroes we have around are people who have endured difficulties; they have exhibited tremendous courage in being altruistic; they are visionaries. These are people to be imitated.
Jesus does not want people to rally around him as if around a celebrity. He does not want a large following of fans and admirers. He wants to form a community of disciples who will imitate him in his endurance, suffering and renunciation.
The Gospel of Luke presents us an image of Jesus being on his long and ultimate journey towards Jerusalem. It is a journey that he began in Chapter 9 of Luke: “Now it happened that as the time drew near for him to be taken up, he resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). It is a journey that he will complete in Chapter 19 of Luke. While he is “on the way” (Lk 17:11) people begin to rally behind him. Today’s gospel reading begins with this line: “Great crowds accompanied him on his way and he turned and spoke to them” Lk 14:25). Jesus becomes suspicious of this mob. He is not too sure if they understand what is going to happen in Jerusalem. He turns around and makes some facts clear to them. And this is not the first time he does this. Early on in Luke 9, when individuals wanted to follow him he did give them some facts about himself and as regards the purpose of his journey (Lk 9:57-62). Now (in Luke 14) individuals have become a crowd, and Jesus’ words have to be more plain. Jesus puts forward three conditions: prioritize – ensure the primacy of Jesus in your life; be ready to die to yourself – carry your own cross; and make yourself vulnerable – renounce your possessions. And because this is going to be challenging you better sit and discern before you continue the journey of discipleship. Discipleship is not a frenzied show where you can jump and be euphoric, it is going to be a real life where you need endurance. Let us focus on the three dimensions of discipleship.
Prioritize: If any man comes to me without hating his father… (Lk 14:26)
Jesus’ words seem terrifying: “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). For sure, the preacher of love is not asking us to hate the very people who we love so naturally. At the same time we shouldn’t water down the demand of Jesus. Earlier in the Gospel, when the man whom Jesus invited to follow him said, “Let me go and bury my father first.” Jesus answered, “Leave the dead to bury their dead” (Lk 9:59-60). Jesus is not surely calling us to be inhuman not to fulfil our duty towards our own parents and families – after all, this is demanded of us in the Ten Commandments. But Jesus also does not want to compromise. Have your priorities clear. Have a prime of place for God in Jesus in your life.
Be ready to die to yourself: Anyone who does not carry his cross…(Lk 14:27)
Given the context of his journey towards Jerusalem, where he is going to suffer and die, Jesus cannot afford to mince words: “No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple” (Lk 14:27). Be ready to suffer. Be ready to die. The death implied in carrying the cross could also mean dying to oneself, dying to one’s own plans and shallow desires and to be focused on Jesus.
This is a real challenge to people of our own times who follow Jesus with the belief that he will solve all their problems associated with the human condition. Jesus invites us today to seek not the consolation of God, but the God of consolation. We do not follow Jesus for something (not even heaven) that we will merit out of our decision to follow him, but because it is worth following him. Would we be ready to die on the cross, without knowing what is going to happen next.
Make yourself vulnerable: Unless he gives up all his possessions (Lk 14:33)
One concrete expression of participating in dying to ourselves is renunciation. “None of you can be my disciple without giving up all that he owns” (Lk 14:33). Already in Chapter 9 of Luke that we have referred to earlier in this reflection, Jesus has said it plainly to the man who wanted to follow him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:57-58). He will repeat this condition of discipleship to the rich (young) man: “Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Lk 18:22). Jesus is being very consistent here.
We also see the spontaneous expression of renunciation among the apostles when they decide to follow Jesus: they make themselves totally vulnerable depending on the man who has nowhere to lay his head. The apostles from the fishing background leave their nets, boats and the hired men; Levi leaves his tax-collecting table. Luke puts it very plainly, “they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:11, 28). Once, while still in London when I told the worshiping congregation in a church that I do not have a bank account or a credit card, they could not believe their ears. But the fact is most religious in the Church, even today, follow the words of Jesus quite radically in renouncing all that they possess. Christians make themselves vulnerable in front of God. Is this possible?
Discern: First sit down and consider…(Lk 14:31)
Surely, this is risky. So you better decide. Jesus does not force you to follow him. In an attempt to make it easier to follow Jesus, we do not have to water down his demands. Each one is free.
Jesus is not a celebrity, you see. He is a hero. And his heroism is in his martyrdom – giving up his life for something that he holds dear. Let us not forget that we are followers of a martyr.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.