DISQUALIFICATION FOR TRUE DISCIPLESHIP OF JESUS
Wis. 9:13-18b; Phlm. 9b-10,12-17; Luke 14:25-33
In the days of Jesus, it was customary for a Rabbi to have a entourage of followers. Those followers were called “disciples”. They followed the Rabbi in every sense of the word. First they went with him wherever he went, walking behind him, as it were. In actual fact, they “walked in his footsteps”, almost putting their feet on the footprints of their Master. This means, they followed the Master physically, and more importantly, morally and spiritually. In this sense, they did all they could to imitate his lifestyle. They modelled their lives after his own, trying to be copies of their Master.
- JESUS, THE RABBI
Like the Rabbis of his day, Jesus also had his own disciples, with one important difference. Whereas disciples normally chose the Rabbis that they followed, in the case of Jesus, he chose his own disciples. He chose them; they did not choose him (Jn 15:16). Having chosen his disciples, Jesus gave them the requirements they needed to meet in order to be fit for the job. He does so by listing the things that disqualify them for discipleship. Take for instance, in ordinary life, those who have been convicted of a felony cannot qualify for certain jobs (That explains why a “certificate of non-conviction” is often required before employment for certain jobs). Sometimes even one’s age, level of education, practical experience, etc., do disqualify people for certain jobs. In today’s gospel, Jesus concentrates on listing the things which will immediately disqualify his followers for true discipleship.
- GROUNDS FOR DISQUALIFICATION FOR TRUE DISCIPLESHIP
There are three causes that disqualify one for being a disciple of Jesus. In the gospel text of today (Luke 14:25-35), Jesus repeats a phrase three times. It is the phrase “CANNOT BE MY DISCIPLE”. There were large crowds following Jesus. He understands it is easy for someone to talk like a Christian and to even believe that he/she is a Christ-follower simply because he/she hangs out with followers of Christ. Jesus wanted them and us to understand that discipleship is not merely about membership; IT IS ABOUT A WAY OF LIFE. It is not about following the crowd; it is about FOLLOWING HIM. Faith does not end at the point of decision to follow Christ. It actually begins at such a point. Therefore, here below, Jesus lists those who cannot be his disciples:
- a) Those who are too preoccupied with their family
Jesus’ first words are: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:26). This is not a new theme as far as Jesus is concerned. In explaining this text, we must bear in mind that the Fourth Commandment of God, states: “Honour your father and your mother,” (Ex 20:12). Furthermore, in the new commandment of love, Jesus also states: “Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 13:34). Consequently, the words of Jesus above do not call on us to neglect or dishonor our family. Jesus could not be blowing hot and cold at the same time. His words simply mean that in our heart, in our priorities, in our calendar, JESUS MUST COME FIRST.
Let us take the example of a marriage covenant. A man and a woman stand before the altar of God, and declare that they will take each other, ALONE, “for the rest of their lives, until death do them part”. The man and the woman are not declaring that they will no longer have any friends or never talk to another person of the opposite sex. They are simply saying that their spouse will have the central or priority position in their heart over all these others. Couples say this because they believe life will be better together than it ever could be apart. This is a huge commitment. To keep that commitment, the man and the woman have to change the way they make decisions. None of the two can live any longer as if he/she were the only one that mattered. This is what God wants from us. He wants that kind of commitment from us in our relationship with him. He wants us to make his glory our priority in life. He wants us to do so because he has demonstrated that HE ALONE IS GOD.
Once again, we emphasize that the Lord is not telling us to abandon or mistreat our family. He is not telling us to get so involved in the work of the church that we are never home. He is calling us to order our priorities in a godly way. When we do this, we actually will be able to love our family more appropriately, fully, and effectively. This is because we are no longer trying to prove ourselves to be “super parents”, but are instead pointing our family to God who alone is worthy of praise. Only Christ can redeem our children, and our other family members. Only He can accompany them through the storms of life. Only He can lead them to eternal glory before the Father of Heaven.
- b) Those who want a soft and easy discipleship
The second exclusion from true discipleship is nearly as hard as the first: “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27). Jesus is not talking about carrying a cross in your pocket or wearing a cross on a chain around your neck. The cross is a symbol of suffering and death. Jesus is saying we need to be people who are willing to sacrifice even our very lives for the Lord. Jesus stands totally contrary to what we sometimes hear being preached by the “Name it and Claim it” gospel or the so-called “prosperity gospel”. This is a weird type of Christianity that sometimes appears ‘sweet’ in order to extort money from people. This version of the gospel has produced Christians who want the rose petal without the rose thorns. They want sweet without sweat. They want the crown of glory without the cross of salvation. Jesus never said that following him would be easy! Today, he makes it very clear that there is nothing like a “Cross-less Christianity.” He points his disciples to the cross and to the cost of following Him.
Now, to drive home his point on counting the cost, Jesus gives two illustrations. Here is the first: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Lk 14:28-30). In concrete terms, if you want to put an addition on your house, you do not just knock a hole in the wall and then, after, go to find out how much it will cost you to do the addition to completion. First, you need to consider many things: what kind of addition you want and whether you have the material for it. You need to consider the issues of plumbing, drainages and electrical connections, etc. You need to consider whether the old structure can support the addition. Finally, you need to add everything up and decide whether or not you have the money to pay for such an addition. You must count the cost. A young man/woman who opts to marry a person who has a record of falsehood and broken promises must be ready to be a victim of scamming (He/she must count the cost). Take the case of elderly couples considering giving birth to many children; they must take into account that the woman may reach menopause before the project is completed (They must count the cost). Or again, a man giving birth to children while in retirement (and at the threshold of old age) should be sure that he is breeding orphans in the short-run. If not, then he shall surely spend a miserable old age looking after children born in twilight of his life (He must count the cost). These are practical life-issues that need consideration before they are done. On these and similar matters, Jesus asks his disciples to count the cost always.
The second illustration is a little different. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace” (Lk 14:31-32). In the case of war, the commander does not have a great deal of time to make a decision. An army is advancing against him. He must take time to consider whether his army has a chance of victory. If there is no good chance of victory, the King/commander would be wise to negotiate terms for peace. Jesus is telling us not to enlist in his army unless we are willing to abide by his command. No one should declare that he/she wants to be Jesus’ follower without knowing what is at stake. He is telling us not to respond emotionally (even though our emotions are involved). He wants us to respond to him rationally, that is, after having considered all the pros and cons.
In fact, today, in many parts of the world, declaring allegiance to Jesus could get you killed. In some Muslim or tight-knit fanatical communities, declaring allegiance to Christ is seen as an act of treason. You may be executed. In our so-called free world today, our cost may not be as great but:
- Your belief in a God might cost you not to be employed in certain companies.
- Your stand for Christ and the moral Laws that he has given might cause you to lose an election, be fired from a job, or be the focus of protests.
- Your refusal to be part of activities that involve illegal or excessive drinking, immoral behaviors, and just plain foolishness, may cause you to be disliked by your friends.
- Your pursuit of personal holiness may necessitate that you abandon some of your former activities and friends and create an uncomfortable situation with others.
- Your insistence on conducting business honestly may cause you to lose contracts to less scrupulous people.
The point is that we need to understand that following Christ will not be easy and it will not be “business as usual”. He calls us to be willing to follow Him even ahead of our own comfort and even our own lives. If we do not realize this, we cannot be His follower.
- c) Those who are too attached and cannot let go
The last group of those disqualified for discipleship is: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). These words remind us of the story of the Rich Young Man in Mtt 19:16 and in Mk 10:17. The rich man wanted to know from Jesus what was needed to obtain eternal life. Jesus told Him he needed to obey the commandments perfectly. This man declared that he had lived an obedient life. Next, Jesus told him that he also needed to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. From this text, one can understand the third disqualifying element for discipleship. Possessions constitute a formidable obstacle in many people’s bid for the crown of salvation.
Jesus is not saying that a person must be destitute in order to be a follower of his. He is saying that we cannot be enslaved to the material and still be honouring God. As believers, NOTHING should hold us back when it comes to opting for the Lord. But unfortunately, sometimes we seem to be telling Jesus “Lord, I will give you all I have ON CONDITION THAT you do not ask me to let go of certain things; or you do not ask me to do certain things”. For instance, in our hearts and minds, we may be telling Jesus that we will follow him fully as long as he does not ask: that we give up some particular friend(s); that we should let go of some grudge we nurse against certain person(s); that we quit our job or attachment to a certain unchristian ways of life; that we give back certain property which we acquired illegitimately; that we reach out to a certain class of people whose religious, political or philosophical ideas do not march with ours, etc. In fact, the attitude of a true disciple should be what we sing in a popular Christian hymn:
“All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him; In His presence daily live. (chorus: I surrender all; I surrender all; All to Thee my blessed Saviour; I surrender all”.) If Jesus is to be Lord AT all, then He must be Lord OF all. We do not tell Him what we think is most important! It is He who tells us! He does not exist to glorify us; we exist to glorify Him!
- TOUGH DECISIONS
In the second reading of today, Paul is helping Onesimus, a runaway slave, return to his master Philemon. The catch is that when he returns, his master must no longer treat him as a slave, but as a Christian brother. So in order for Philemon to be a good disciple he must sacrifice his slave. Onesimus will return to him, this time as an equal. Indeed, this is another one of those tough sacrifices one has to make in order to qualify for Jesus’ discipleship. For when we put Jesus first, we must put others ahead of ourselves as well.
Today, Jesus is warning those who want to be his disciples that the life of a disciple will be difficult. They will be put in situations where their own flesh and blood will oppose their faith or tempt them to disobey Jesus. As Jesus says elsewhere, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). Mark quotes Jesus as further emphasizing: “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (Mark 13:12). In effect, Jesus is saying, “You do not understand. The life of a disciple is a life of suffering. It will be difficult. And if you are not prepared for this you will fall away. You will be persecuted because of me, and suffer loss because of me (See Luke 8:13; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:12). At that point, you will have a choice. You can remain faithful to me or you can be unfaithful to make the cross or heavy burden go away. You can be silent rather than speak of Jesus, go along with the crowd, rather than obey Jesus. You can compromise the truth instead of standing up for the truth of God’s Word. To do any of these things, to compromise or become silent or go along with the crowd rather than confess, speak, and live the life Christ has called us to, is to drop the cross instead of carrying it. But if you refuse to carry the cross of suffering you cannot be his disciple.