by Angela M. Jendro
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel Luke 14:25-33 NAB
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.”
How can Christ, whose new commandment to us was to “love one another as I have loved you” simultaneously ask that we hate our family members? As we celebrate the feast day of St. Mother Teresa this week, we can look to her example to illuminate this paradox. Jesus’ challenge that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” proved a difficult task and one that required great love, detachment, and grace for Mother Teresa who left her home, her family, and even her beloved convent to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets in India. Jesus rightly warns to count the cost before we set out on a project lest we find ourselves giving up midway. Discipleship calls for a total gift of self, in response to the Lord who made the ultimate gift of self for us through His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.
In a perfect world, or at least in heaven, loves do not compete with one another and we aren’t painfully pulled in opposing directions. In our current fallen state however, we come to crossroads where we must choose between two loves. It’s one thing to forsake the love of a material good or a sinful habit, but the hardest love to forsake is that of someone with whom we have a relationship but refuses to share us with Christ and gives us an ultimatum.
This ultimatum may not sound as direct as “it’s me or Christ!” but it will likely pit some aspect of following Christ against something the person wants of you. Following Christ results in a life of sacrifice that’s counter-cultural. Authentic Christians don’t blend in and that bothers people who don’t want to stir the waters. Living your faith, even quietly, can prick the conscience of another and result in lashing out to ease his or her own angst. Similar to Jesus, Christians offer love unconditionally to others. Unfortunately, the same is not always true on the other end and the painful choice between following Christ or making the person you care about happy must be made.
This choice takes as many forms as there are relationships. For a teen it can be a couple breaking up because one chooses purity over promiscuity or being left out of social gatherings because of a refusal to drink. For a young adult it can be a person choosing the religious life despite the discouragement of parents, or moving away from family and friends for a service they are called to by Christ. For parents it can mean getting the silent treatment from a child because you refuse to condone their wrong behavior. For a spouse it can mean suffering the anger of the other because one refuses to compromise living out his or her faith to appease the other’s sin. No one wants a rift in their family – whether between parents, children, or spouses. At the same time not everything is in our control except our own decision to follow the Lord. Navigating these situations can be confusing and spiritual direction should be sought to sort out how to authentically love in particular situations.
Mother Teresa desired to follow Christ and to give her whole life in love to Him. First it meant leaving her family to join the Sisters of Loreto as a nun and serve in India as a teacher. Next, she received her “call within a call” to go out into the streets and serve the poorest of the poor. She was happy as a nun and asked Jesus if she could just serve Him more devoutly in the way she already was. Each time however He repeated His request for her to satiate His thirst for souls by ministering to the poor and destitute. He would ask her each time, “Wouldst thou refuse Me?”
Mother Teresa felt torn between two loves. Her love for the other sisters, her students, and her life in the convent was certainly a noble love, but discipleship called her to follow Christ to a place that meant she would have to choose between the two. Ultimately, Mother Teresa could not surrender her love for Jesus to anything else and so she gave up and gave in to the Lord. As she followed Christ, Mother Teresa surrendered everything to Him – material goods, physical comforts, family, and even the convent walls. She went into the most destitute streets with nothing but a sari and a passion for Jesus.
Contrary to cultural demands, Christians cannot compartmentalize their faith. We are followers of Christ at church, at home, at work, when alone, or when with friends. We have to be prepared that some people, even some we for whom we care deeply, may not tolerate our discipleship and choose to leave us. In these instances, we can look to Christ for the grace and grit to carry our cross, a cross which He promises will end in a resurrection.
This Sunday, may we count the cost and, with the grace of Christ, decide to follow Him to the end. The joy of Mother Teresa, and the light of love and mercy her life became, serves as a witness for us of the glorious destination of discipleship – a project worth completing!
- Are you a disciple of Christ? If the answer is yes, what moves you to love Him and to follow Him? If the answer is no or not yet, what attracts you about Christ or piques your curiosity?
- In what ways has discipleship caused you to live counter-culturally? Has it strained any of your relationships?
- How has carrying your cross produced resurrections and blessings in your life? What have been some of the fruits of your discipleship?
- What cross are you carrying right now? In what way does it resemble Jesus’ cross? How does it bring you closer to Him as you share in His experience?
- It feels good to accomplish something hard that required grit and perseverance. Consider how it will feel to “finish the race” as St. Paul says, and to have followed Christ (with the help of His grace) to the end.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Learn more about Mother Teresa or read a collection of her writings or quotations.
- If you feel tension between following Christ and appeasing someone you love, seek spiritual direction this week from your priest or a wise and holy person you know. Reach out in person, by phone, or email.
- Pray an Act of Consecration to Jesus each day this week.