Discipleship is a Cross

The opening verse in Chapter 9 of the Book of Wisdom, sets a tone for the surprising exhortation of Jesus on discipleship in the Gospel of Luke. The Book of Wisdom says, “Who can know God’s counsel or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” In the Gospel of Luke Chapter 14, Verse 25 Jesus proclaims, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, sisters and brothers— yes even his own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. It definitely sounds like an echo of what Jesus said a few Sundays ago: that he brings not peace but division. 

We indeed cannot easily understand or know or conceive the mind of the Lord. Surely Jesus’ claim can evidently, in some way, distort and disturb the equilibrium of our faith. It may give the wrong signal to the wonderful idea of what Christian discipleship is all about. Did Jesus really utter those words? Yes, he did, loud and clear! If he did say those words, then what happened to the Old Testament commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother?” 

Let us hold our judgment for a while. We must understand that the admonition of Jesus is in the context of his Semitic culture. Jesus is not, in any way here, teaching an emotional hatred. He unquestionably doesn’t promote strong emotional dislike towards our parents, or family members, or even ourselves. In his time and culture, when Jews used the word hate, it meant, “to give less importance.” So, when Jesus declared the words, “Without hating his father, mother or himself,” He was simply trying to say that while family is important to us, God must be the most important amongst all other things in this world. If we put God first in all that we do, then we can be called disciples. Easier said than done. It requires discipline. It is not a coincidence that the words disciples and discipline come from one and the same Latin word, discipulus. A disciple is a person of discipline. 

The Gospel of Luke Chapter 14 also speaks of a metaphor about a man who builds a house without first counting the cost. In the process, the man realizes that he cannot follow through on what he has started. He leaves the house unfinished because he ran out of budget. This allegory helps explain that discipleship is a well-planned decision to make. Once you engage yourself in following Jesus there is a cost required. The word is commitment. We sometimes must sacrifice some other things for something greater. 

To be a disciple, we must be willing to give up everything for Jesus. Following Jesus requires commitment and faithfulness even if our family members sometimes choose not to follow the Lord. It is a difficult scenario, but it happens in real life. It is a cross, a heavy cross. Discipleship is a cross. Jesus invites us to embrace and carry that cross. We do not know what is behind every cross that we carry. Let us carry it with a prayer that one day we will understand its meaning.

— Reflection by Fr. Michael Gazzingan