In our Gospel passage last week, we heard Jesus call us to take up our cross and to follow Him. How does this following take shape? It’s easy to say follow Him, but how are we to do it? We see some of the steps in our Gospel today which occurs shortly after last week’s, with our Lord beginning to turn His face towards Jerusalem, towards the events which will bring about the end of His life and the beginning of our redemption.
Jesus’ turning towards Jerusalem is the echo of His command to us in our previous Gospel to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him. What sort of master would He be in commanding us to do this if He did not do it Himself? Resolute in the face of animosity and hatred, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to accomplish that for which He was sent by the Father: the Passion and Death by which humanity is redeemed from sin along with the triumph of the Resurrection. It is a reminder to those of us who bear the name of Christian that this life is filled with sorrow and labor, as the Psalms remind us also. This is something that we have perhaps lost in the West, although I fear that we Christians may feel the sting of hatred against us more and more in these days of secularism and revolution. To be a Christian means to suffer in one form or another.
This leads to the first of the three disciples-to-be in today’s Gospel. A man approaches and tells Jesus that he will follow Him wherever He will go. While this sounds good at first, if we reflect on the man’s words, we hear a hint of misunderstanding. The man does not say merely that he will follow Jesus, but that he will follow Him to His destination, like someone riled up at a rally. This man treats Jesus like many men have treated Marx or Lenin or Washington by signalling their desire to go with them, but Jesus points the man towards that which is the true goal of following Jesus.
The second man is actually asked by Jesus to follow Him, and gives a legitimate reason to delay: he wishes to bury his father, who is most likely not dead but is close to death. In saying this, the man seeks to obey the commandments given by God, which place honoring father and mother as the highest of the precepts concerning one’s neighbor. But Jesus reminds the man that God ultimately comes first, and that God must be served even before the duty due to one’s parents. This is reinforced with the last man, who desires to follow Jesus but wishes to bid his family farewell. Jesus tells this man to avoid looking back and to begin to plow forward in faith.
In each of these encounters, Christ desires to show not only the radical nature of the call that He gives to everyone, but to reinforce the mystery at the heart of His being, that mystery which gives Him the authority to make this call. The call to follow Jesus excludes everything, no ifs, ands, or buts. In calling us to follow Him, Jesus will exclude even the good things God has instituted, such as our family or even our lives. Nothing is to intrude upon this call.
How much do we individually struggle with this call? Do we recognize that Jesus has called us to this? Do we recall the promises we made at baptism, when we rejected Satan and all his works and all his empty show and swore our allegiance to God in Christ? Those promises were not meant to be partial or to be when it seemed to work best. We Christians today seem to be a schizophrenic people, dividing our time between Christ and something else, whether it is politics, sports, family, work. Yet this is not what we promised when we were freed from the yoke of slavery and established in the freedom of God, as Saint Paul teaches us.
To be a Christian is to follow Jesus Christ, period. It is not to be a Christian and a Republican or a Christian and a Democrat or a Christian and any number of things we could join to it. We are not meant to be part-time Christians, dedicating a couple of hours to Sunday worship and some prayers but otherwise keeping Christ out of it. If we are Christians, then we are to follow Christ in everything. Every facet of our lives must be animated by the teachings and the example of Jesus as maintained by His Church. To do anything less is to negate our psalm today, in which we acclaim the Lord as our one true inheritance, or to do as Saint Paul warns against in our second reading, by returning to the desires of the flesh instead of remaining in the Spirit.
Let us pray this day that we may be inspired to a more radical following of Jesus Christ through, with, and in His holy Church, for no one can lay claim to the name Christian if he will avoid the Church which Christ founded. Let us pray that everything which has distracted us or turned us away from Jesus will lose its savor and that we will rediscover the sweetness of serving God in this life. But let us not merely pray for these things but begin to do them in our lives. Words are empty if they are not supported by actions. Let us reevaluate our lives so as to place Christ at the center of it all and ensure that it all leads to Him. Let us seek to do this so that our Psalm may be fulfilled, and that we may join the saints in gaining the fullness of joys in God’s presence, and share in the delights at His right hand forever.