The Cost of Discipleship
Discipleship calls us to continually refocus our lives and our thoughts on Jesus and on the Gospel. What does it mean for us to be disciples? What did it mean to you when you were seven years old and received Holy Communion for the first time? What did it mean when you were confirmed? When you left your parents’ home? When you got married? At the birth of your first child? When you lost something very valuable to you? What was that “cost of discipleship?”
Jesus’ words in this Sunday’s Gospel are very direct and strong: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” and “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” These are hard imperatives. But if we love as Jesus teaches us to love, we know that love makes us willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of another. We sacrifice because we love. Love changes everything and we can bear almost any kind of burden, any kind of cross. When we reflect on the Paschal Mystery in our lives, we come to realize that suffering and death to old ways of thinking and being, do lead to Easter glory, to Resurrection!
When we are passionately and intentionally focused on following Jesus, we know that we must be faithful to the process—to continuous calls to bear burdens and to renounce possessions or the things that possess us! How does following Jesus shape our daily life, values, decisions and goals?
As you prepare to enter into the liturgy this weekend, tell Jesus what it means for you to take up your cross and follow him. And be sure to LISTEN as Jesus responds to you.
It’s Hard to be Humble
“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Do you remember those lyrics to Mac Davis’ 1980 song? For some strange reason, that song came to my mind as I read the Gospel for this weekend. It might be because, in recent weeks, I’ve noticed how much effort there is to be “first,” to be at the top. There’s no end to competition in sales, in sports, in politics. We desperately need this Gospel to remind us that in Jesus’ invitation to the banquet, there is a complete reversal of what we consider to be the best ranking.
Admittedly, it is hard for some of us to be humble. And others put themselves down and deny their giftedness. That might be a kind of “false humility.” So exactly what is the humility that Jesus desires? I think the call is to not think of ourselves greater or lesser than anyone else. Can we stand in a balance, knowing ourselves honestly, assuming equality with all others? Matthew Kelly reminds us that our sole responsibility is to become the best version of ourselves that God intended for us to be. The tricky, thorny part is what GOD intended for us to be!
Jesus in both words and actions tells us that all are welcome at the table. All are invited to sit at the table. My imagination tells me that in Jesus’ time, tables would be circular. In a circle, there is no real place of honor. In Jesus’ way of thinking, all are included in sharing their gifts—diverse and rich! To be different does not mean deficient. In God’s eyes, all are equal. We are all beloved children of a loving God.
Imagine yourself this weekend having Jesus come to you and invite you to meet the poor, the homeless, the illiterate, the jobless, the person of a different race or faith tradition. Listen to them speak to you. And pay attention to your response. Try to not talk back… just listen contemplatively.
Does the narrow, closed door puzzle you? If you had the choice of doors to walk through, which would you choose? In the Gospel reading this weekend, we hear of narrow doors, persons knocking on locked doors and surprises about who will enter into the kingdom of heaven. In other words, this story is about gatekeepers and “insiders” and “outsiders.” Who exactly will experience the kingdom of heaven?
In my family, everyone depended on my grandmother to pray us into heaven. My brothers, to this day, will claim that they can live life as they want because they have a sister who is a nun and ultimately, she will pray them into heaven. That’s counting on a lot! I keep telling them they are on their own!
This Gospel for this weekend hits hard….it isn’t about who you know or what you have done. Only one relationship counts. And that relationship is with Jesus. We can sit in church every Sunday and listen, we can check off every sacrament we have received, we can do good deeds. But in the end, “insiders” will be left out, and “outsiders” will be brought in. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. So many reversals.
Ultimately what matters most is whether Jesus recognizes us as related to him in our hearts. Can we call Jesus our “essential and first friend?” And does it matter where we are put, what door we walk through, as long as we are with Jesus? Read Anne Osdieck’s poetic portrayal of this Gospel here.
To Be Set on Fire and Already Blazing
Jesus said to his disciples, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Who are the people you know who have set the world on fire with their passion for a cause? Jesus was referring to prophets who are not afraid to speak truth to power. Where in your life do you experience the call to be prophetic? Is it with your family, friends, workplace, neighborhood? Speaking truth to power is not easy and does not win us friends. The Gospel of Jesus calls us to a radical way of life that often stands in contradiction to popular beliefs. And for those who remain radically faithful to the Gospel, it could mean suffering and death. This weekend gives us an opportunity to reflect on some of the people we consider to be modern day prophets—Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Sister Dorothy Stang, the priest in France martyred in church.
The Gospel is never fulfilled with complacency! Our challenge is to “be on fire,” to be fired up and blazing—not just in sports, or in motivation in the workplace. To be a disciple of Jesus, faithful to the Gospel, is to have one’s life challenged to the core. The values and morals of each generation inevitably come into conflict with what Jesus teaches. Strength for the journey comes from the witness of community, celebrating the Eucharist and doing justice—this too we do in remembrance of Jesus!
Making Alternate Investments
Money is a very important to all of us. We keep it in purses, wallets, money clips and sometimes even under a mattress. We have investment accounts, savings accounts and health care plans. We have to learn to be good with money so that we can provide for and be responsible for our families and all that matters to us in life. So what then does it mean to “provide for yourselves money bags that do not wear out?” Jesus’ message in Luke’s gospel is about not knowing when we will be called to our final destination, or when death will come to us. So all of us must be prepared. To be prepared is to have stored an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can steal or no moth can destroy. And how do we acquire such treasure? The command is hard: sell your belongings and give alms. It means that we are called to take our responsibility to the common good just as seriously as we take the securing of our own welfare and that of our families. Our happiness on earth may be linked to material goods. That’s the temptation. How good are we with the treasure that won’t wear out, the responsibility for the common good? Jesus is very demanding, insisting that we make hard decisions if we intend to enter the kingdom. It might be time to make some alternate investments! One good one is spending time in gratitude to God this weekend at our Sunday Mass.
What does it mean to be rich in what matters to God? Most of us can probably describe well what it means to be rich. Some of us would like to be rich. Some of us are already rich and don’t know it.
Jesus teaches that possessions and wealth are not bad. Rather, it is one’s attitude toward possessions that matters. We can become possessed by possessions, focused on things and wealth, rather than keeping God as the center of our lives. The danger is often greed and selfishness. I know too many people, some in my family, who worked so hard to accumulate more and more, saying that they would enjoy life when they retire. They would spend more time with their wife and children, visiting family, reading books, volunteering for church activities and learning how to pray more when they retire. And they died soon after retirement began, and some even before.
Jesus teaches me to trust God, not myself, and to be rich toward God. What do I need to grow rich in the sight of God? What do I need for this growth to take place? I’m going to reflect and pray for conversion on my part at Mass this weekend. See you there? Together, in community, we can explore God’s calls to us to be “rich toward God.”
Persisting in Prayer
When you think of yourself and your prayer life, which image fits you best? Are you praising and rejoicing? Begging and pleading? Interceding for others? In advising us to ask—seek—knock in our prayer, Jesus is reminding us that prayer always takes us out of ourselves, and places us before God. What do we ask of God? Are we like Abraham, bargaining or asking for justice? Are we bold in our prayer? What would that look like? If the Our Father is our prayer, are we serious about the forgiveness part? The words “persistent” and “persistence” are found in the readings. This weekend, we can ask for Abraham’s courage to be persistent before God and we will find God with us in every life circumstance. We can dare to go outside ourselves, to consider what discipleship demands of us, and to place ourselves before God. Isn’t the Eucharist just such an opportunity? See you on Sunday for persistent prayer and prayer for persistence!
Choosing to be Mary in a Martha World
Ah, the dilemma! A domestic squabble between two sisters? Entertaining or listening? What’s the priority? “Fussy Martha” and “Resting Mary” is the way Anne Osdieck describes the two sisters who welcome Jesus into their home. Martha she says “readied the table, readied the meal, and poured fine wine.” Her idea of welcome was to put out the best in entertainment. Mary on the other hand, sits at the feet of Jesus, letting his voice fill her soul. This weekend, we pray that we too do the “one thing that is necessary.” Paying attention to the person in need is to be preferred over everyday responsibilities. It’s a new priority!
Jesus’ “home visit” does another thing. He is approving a shift, a change in traditional, physical boundaries in Jewish homes that delineated “male space” and “female space.” By sitting at the feet of Jesus, Mary crossed the line. Only a disciple of a teacher would do this and only a man could be a disciple. When Martha notes that Mary is not where she belongs, helping in the kitchen, Jesus makes clear where he stands—and where Mary can sit. Once again, Jesus is signaling a “new creation,” a discipleship of equals. And it isn’t finished yet.
When have our concepts of “where people belong” changed?
What concepts of “where people belong” still need to be changed?
call us to rest at your feet and hear;
to share for a while with you
the one thing that is
Let us feast on it
as we bustle
Who is the neighbor to the wounded man?
Think of the Good Samaritan story as if it happened today. Where do you see the “beaten ones” in your neighborhood, city or world? What groups need the Samaritan? The trafficked? The immigrants? The refugees? The homeless or the hungry? Who are the Samaritans who are helping these defenseless ones to live a fuller life? Whether it is large or small, is there anything you can do to help any of the “beaten ones” we see? Can we cross the road?
With whom do you identify in the story: the beaten one, the Levite, the priest, the Samaritan or the lawyer? How do you hear Jesus speaking to you through this parable? The question of “who is my neighbor” baffles us at times. On a poster I found this quote: “The point of the Good Samaritan story is not evangelism. The point is to love people you don’t know who are from places where you don’t live. They too are your neighbors.” I’m going to work at widening my heart as I listen to this parable this weekend. Another discovery I made is Ron Rolheiser’s alternate telling of the parable that brings it into modern times. Am I the person who would most unlikely be the Good Samaritan? Here is the link:
What does it mean to be “sent on mission?” When have you experienced being sent? What was the mission? What resources did you have made available to you? With what attitude did you approach your mission?
If we pay attention to Luke’s Gospel this weekend, we have some clues about what it means to be like one of the 72 missionaries Jesus sent. He sent them in pairs; no one was sent alone. They took along no resources, except their belief in the message, their faith and the companionship of each other. The power to heal and restore relationships came not of their own doing, but always through God’s power. It was a power given to them “on loan.”
Think of all the ways we do things in pairs at St. Francis. We prepare for sacraments in pairs—we have marriage couples forming themselves, with the assistance of sponsor couples, for life-long commitments. We have sponsors or godparents for the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. We frequently enter a relationship of prayer partners at retreats and in between gatherings. Our Small Church Community gatherings end with actionable “being sent” rituals. We are co-mission-ed and sent to be missionaries to others when we dig wells to provide water in remote areas of Guatemala, when we help build affordable housing or provide needed repairs for our neighbors in need, when we serve on ACTS teams to witness to the power of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives.
Jesus asks those sent to be single-minded, to be completely focused on leading others to a relationship with God that promises eternal life! We gather together this weekend to focus on being sent on mission!