Homily for 9.8.13
23rd Sunday in
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today is another deeply challenging Jesus-statement from St. Luke. There simply seems to be no letting up to the disturbance that Jesus brings in his confrontation with his contemporaries, and by extension to us.
I have often said, although not too often lately, that Jesus is exasperating, by which I mean -- if we are truly listening -- his manner and ministry irritates, provokes to a high degree and annoys to the extreme. I think in today's homily we find this exasperation complete.
Simply put, if these last seven or eight homilies from St. Luke have shown anything, they have shown that Jesus demands everything of those who would follow the narrow way. The desire to fit GOD into our lives with our comfort-zones intact will simply not cut it.
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The pericope begins with this statement:
"Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them..."
Apparently, at this point popularity belonged to Jesus the Prophet. His words and his works drew attention to his ministry. People now traveled with him, no doubt wanting to see what he would do next. This popularity was both good and bad.
In some ways this popularity was good because the good-news message, that the GOD-promised Kingdom was now actually present before the people, was being heard. And, something else was being heard as well. Namely, what we shared last week, the warning that the nation must repent and turn from their way of being Israel to the Jesus-way of being Israel (Wright). And remember, this repentance ultimately meant they must turn from their status as the people of GOD to their vocation that GOD had given them as the suffering servants for the world. (Wright) Or, said differently, they must fully embody their status as GOD’s chosen people by fulfilling their vocation to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
However, in other ways this popularity was bad. The notoriety would bring him to the attention of Herod and of Rome. (Lk.13:31-32) And, this sort of popularity would certainly precipitate the crisis confrontation that Jesus anticipated between him and the powers of darkness and empire (Lk.9:22-23). But, to Jesus' mind, this confrontation must not occur before he had the opportunity to share his message throughout the villages. (Lk.10:1)
CONFRONTING THE CROWDS
How, then, does Jesus deal with crowds? He confronts them with the true meaning of following him, causing them to face their own ideas and to square them with just what it really meant to travel with him.
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."
OK. We've now arrived at the exasperating part, but it seems like we have been hammering away at this same idea for weeks. In this text, however, we may have come to the depths of what it means to follow on the narrow way (Lk.13:24). For, to follow on after Jesus is to allow Jesus access to everything we are and everything we have. It is to open ourselves to the reality that the most important driving force behind our lives is this calling to follow him by fully living toward the suffering road to Jerusalem and fully engaging in the life of the cross.
That is, we must submit to our own path to Jerusalem. We must take up our own instruments of humiliation and death. We must willingly open ourselves to the same broken world that Jesus faced. This is the meaning of Jesus' words from earlier in Luke's Gospel:
22 "For I, the Son of Man, must suffer many terrible things," he said. "I will be rejected by the leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. I will be killed, but three days later I will be raised from the dead." 23 Then he said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. 25 And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process? 26 If a person is ashamed of me and my message, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in my glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. (Luke 9:22-26)
And, we find that St. Paul drives home this same idea when he writes:
5 Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7 He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. 8 And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross. (Phil.2:5-8)
So, what Jesus does to the crowds is basically unlike what we would do. We, being so concerned with success in the worlds eyes because to us numbers equal credibility (in a world of people, it is very difficult to believe anything by oneself), might never discourage a crowd from following. Jesus, on the other hand knows that the the true path to the Kingdom involves a total reorientation of our lives toward sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness. And he also knows many will never find this way.
This is not the first time we have heard Jesus speak like this. Two weeks ago we partly unpacked these words from Jesus:
22 Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he went, always pressing on toward Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He replied, 24 "The door to heaven is narrow. Work hard to get in, because many will try to enter, 25 but when the head of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. Then you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Lord, open the door for us!' But he will reply, 'I do not know you.' 26 You will say, 'But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' 27 And he will reply, 'I tell you, I don't know you. Go away, all you who do evil.' Luke 13:22-27)
THE ULTIMATE COST
So, Jesus' confrontation caused those traveling with him to stand before the crossroads.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?
what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
And then the ultimatum:
In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
What would they do?
Mostly, at the point of decision, they rejected Jesus' message of the Kingdom-promise fulfilled (Lk.23:13-24). They wanted the times of healing and resurrection without the suffering road to Jerusalem and the cost of the cross. In the end, this broke the LORD's heart (Lk.19:41), but not his will to sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness. (Lk.23:43)
But, there is another question. What, then, will we do?
You see, we too have a choice. We, too, have a daily decision whether to follow the Jesus-way, or not. O Brothers and Sisters, this way is not natural to us. This way is so difficult for us because our hearts are so divided. This way is so difficult for us because in our hearts sin -- which is selfishness and the self-life -- so easily resides. Truly, we can only walk after the LORD together. Truly, we can only follow the narrow way arm in arm. Truly, we can only love others, absorb their evil with forgiveness within this new company of humanness, this new people that GOD continues to create through the ongoing work of Jesus.
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,
and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”