Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Cost of Discipleship

Readings for Sunday, September 5:
Wisdom 9:13-18
Psalm 90:3-6, 13-17
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

For the past few months I’ve been toying around with the idea of getting a new cell phone. I’m sure you all know that there are hundreds of types of cell phones out there so I set out to find the one that would best suit my needs. I did all sorts of research on the internet, talked with different people who had phones I was interested in and ultimately decided to get an iPhone; this was only part of the planning though because after choosing the phone, I began to look at the costs – the cost of the phone itself, the activation fee, the monthly bill, the miscellaneous items such as cases and cables and all the rest. I got the phone this past week and couldn’t help but connect my own experience of researching and calculating costs for this new phone with the gospel passage which I was reflecting on throughout the week and which we just heard. No right-thinking person, says the Lord, starts out on a project without first calculating the costs, and even the risks. So what does this mean for us in our own journey of faith?

Scripture tells us that we are called to love God with all of our mind, heart, soul, and strength and that the greatest sign of love is to lay down our life for a friend. The proof of love, then, is the willingness to suffer for the one we love; to be willing to go without for the sake of the good of the other. This applies not only to our relationships with one another, but also to our relationship with God. And this is the point of our gospel today – the fact that our love for God will necessarily involve great costs.

In his book ‘The Cost of Discipleship,’ the 20th century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is not necessarily a physical death, though some may be called to martyrdom, but it is primarily a death to self. As we hear it in the gospel, we must be willing to pick up our cross and follow after Christ; moreover, not simply picking up our cross, we must be willing to mount it each day and be crucified to ourselves so that the Lord might be glorified. And here we see the true cost of discipleship – nothing less than everything we have.

Our gospel gives us two examples that probably hit close to home for many of us – that of hating our family and renouncing our possessions. When Jesus tells us that we cannot be disciples unless we hate our mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even ourselves, it can sound a bit confusing. We’re supposed to love our enemies, but hate our family? Sounds rather foolish said that way. Saint Matthew, however, sheds a bit more light on this concept in the parallel passage in that gospel with the addition of three small words – “more than me”. If we love our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, or ourselves, more than the Lord Himself, we have gone astray. Our love for God should be greater than any other love that we have. The same applies with the passage about the renunciation of all of our possessions. While some are called to a life of voluntary poverty, most of us simply must be mindful to keep our love for created things, our wealth and treasures, subject to our love for God. The point is to be willing to give up everything.

Sometimes this ‘everything’ will include our own desires and dreams, our aspirations and ambitions, or an activity that brings us joy. The thing is that if the Lord came to us at this moment and said “I want you to give up …” and He names our biggest treasure, a relationship, a dream, are we willing to follow after Him out of love, to die to ourselves and pay the cost for love of God?

When it comes down to it, no matter how tough the decision may be and no matter how great the cost to ourselves, there are only two ways to respond to the call to discipleship. Either we can echo the Blessed Virgin Mary who at the Annunciation from Gabriel responded to God, saying, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word” or we can echo the evil one, Satan, who, when called on by the Lord, responded “I will not serve.”  There is not middle ground; either one is a disciple or not.

Our redemption is freely offered; but it is not free. It came at a great cost to Christ and comes at a great cost to ourselves. But if we are willing to pay it, if we are willing to say yes to the Lord God and climb the cross to offer ourselves each day out of love for Him, then the great treasure that we will reap will be far greater than any phone, building or relationship that this world has to offer. We will receive countless blessings in this life and the reward about which the reading from the Book of Wisdom say we cannot even conceive, the gift of Heaven and eternal life with God. The question then is this: are we willing to pay the cost for so great a treasure?