By Mary Flick, CSJ
Last Sunday, the gospel opened with Jesus giving a startling, stark command: hate your parents; hate your family; hate yourself. This does not sound like the Jesus we know! But perhaps the next, unrecorded line from Jesus is, “Now that I have you attention.…” Such a dramatic introduction may be necessary for us to hear the heart of Jesus’ teaching: there is a cost to discipleship.
For the last several weeks, we have been hearing about that cost: discipleship requires humility, grace, division, courage, readiness. Now we hear the greatest cost: “Carry your cross and come after me.” Even more than the calculating builder or the decisive ruler, the disciple faces an all-or-nothing decision on the road to Jerusalem. Give up comfort; give up your possessions. Life as a follower of Jesus will cost everything.
“Who can conceive what the Lord intends?” These words from the Book of Wisdom may verbalize for us our question as we contemplate the cost of discipleship. But the first reading also tells us what we will be given once we make the choice to follow: wisdom and the Holy Spirit to guide us on the path.
Finally, we see in the second reading the practical cost of discipleship lived out in the life of Paul. He is an “old man” who has given the best years of his life to proclaiming Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. And now he is, quite literally, serving time in a cell as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus.” From this lowly place, Paul asks his friend, Philemon, to renounce his possession, his slave Onesimus. With affection, Paul describes the slave who has been baptized and who sits in prison with him as “my own heart” and “beloved.” Then Paul asks the difficult: he asks Philemon to accept Onesimus back, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother. It’s a radical request in first-century Palestine – and in any time. But it reveals the cost of discipleship in real, human, practical ways: to go against what is acceptable in society, to renounce what is rightfully owned, to see one who is inferior in our social strata as “a man and in the Lord,” to see the person as my equal in God’s eyes.
Do we have what it takes to be a disciple?
What cost is discipleship asking of me these days?
Bring a bag of groceries to Mass next Sunday as a symbol of the cost that I am willing to pay to be a follower of Jesus.