TRUE DISCIPLESHIP: A COSTLY ENTERPRISE, BUT MERITORIOUS!
First Reading: Wisdom 9:13-18; Second Reading: Philemon 1:10,12-17; Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
Discipleship means being a student or a follower of a reputable personality. In other words, it means following the footsteps, principles and teachings of a highly respected religious leader (Rabbi or teacher). By the virtue of our baptism as Christians, we are, ipso facto Christ’s followers. Hence, we are called to pattern our lives in the exact manner that Jesus Christ lived His life here on earth. So, the questions we need to ask ourselves are: “How did Jesus Christ live?” “What were His principles, philosophy, or modus operandi?”
Jesus Christ, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:6-7). He patiently humbled Himself in order to deliver humanity from the powers of darkness, and then save her from eternal damnation. Consequently, He experienced humiliations, rejections, persecutions, hatred etc., in the process, and the climax was His crucifixion on the Cross; all in a bid to salvage humanity. What a sacrificial love!
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus Christ enumerates the conditio sine qua non (necessary conditions) for true discipleship, that is, the conditions, attitudes or virtues that are very essential for His disciple to possess. First, He says: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
Of course, Jesus Christ who is at the vanguard of true love of God and neighbour does not mean here, that we should literally hate our relations or friends. No! But He meant that, we must make Him our first priority in life, or be ready to give Him the first place in our lives above everything than to our own family members and friends especially when His Gospel principle clashes with theirs.
Just like the man who requested to follow Jesus Christ wherever He goes, but Christ told him: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Also, the young rich man who wanted to go to heaven, but after Jesus told him: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:17-23), he went away sad. Certainly, Christ simply wanted them to know the implications of discipleship, which require total renunciation of self, dedication and sacrifices (true love).
Undoubtedly, to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ is not easy as people might think. I could remember when I had the call to the priesthood. Initially, I was battling within myself either to jettison my acquisitions and resign from my reputable job as an engineer to enter the seminary, or to ignore that inner voice that was persistently talking to me about priesthood, and then continue with my plans of getting married. This was a very difficult decision for me to make. However, after several fervent prayers, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I made a resolute decision to answer the call.
Hence, to make a firm decision to follow Jesus Christ more closely requires: patience, tolerance, endurance, humility, sacrificial love, forgiveness, detachment, dedication, courage to speak the truth and resolute will. These are the qualities that one must possess in order to please God, and at the end, gain a meritorious reward – eternal life. This is what it means to learn the counsel and the wisdom of God, and to discern His Will through the Holy Spirit, just as the first reading exemplifies.
Secondly, Jesus Christ gives His disciples an analogy that explicates the implications of becoming a true disciple, which requires great resources, including strong will and courage, to complete the duty. That is the reason why He lays more emphasis on the need to calculate the cost of discipleship first, if one must truly follow Him.
Certainly, it involves alienation from one’s family and friends. One should have the courage and will to detach himself or herself from family ties in favour of Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Furthermore, it involves suffering and self-sacrifice; of course, many people may purposely trample on us in order to know our reaction. On several occasions, one is called upon to sacrifice one’s comforts, and even one’s own life for the sake of Christ.
Moreover, since Jesus Christ sacrificed His life on the Cross in order to redeem us from the bondage of sin and death, thus, a true disciple of Christ must be ready to embrace the following crosses: hatred, rejection, mockery, insults, ignominy, attacks, persecutions, and sufferings for the sake of Christ, and still forgives the offenders, just like St. Paul in the second reading. For Christ says, “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). So, if any Christian is not ready to entertain or experience these ugly situations in life, he or she is not worthy to answer or become a true disciple of Jesus Christ, Q.E.D.
Finally, we are called to follow Jesus Christ by patterning our lives in the exact manner that He lived His life here on earth, and making Him our first priority in life. For true discipleship is a very costly enterprise, but meritorious. It is a life of total renunciation of self, dedication and sacrifices.
Also, it is a life that is imbued with hatred, persecutions, rejections, sufferings, etc., which requires: patience, tolerance, endurance, humility, true love, forgiveness, detachment, dedication, courage to speak the truth and resolute will in order to gain eternal life on the last day. The cost seems to be high, but the ultimate reward is nothing less than a life of total union with the Lord. So, are you ready to bear the cost and become a true disciple of Jesus Christ?
May the Holy Spirit of God grant you the grace to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and on the last day, may you gain eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.