At the age of 16, just having finished my GSCEs, I got my first job. It was selling double-glazed windows, or more precisely inviting people to meet with a representative of the company, who would sell them windows, doors, patio doors, conservatories, whatever they wanted or needed. While I was thus employed, I learned very quickly that many people did not enjoy having someone knock on their door and ask them if they were interested in new uPVC units. Many of these people had angry dogs. I had to run away from them. People told me to clear off in no uncertain terms. Despite a smart appearance, a smile, and basic sales patter, most of my words fell on deaf ears. Some people were interested, and engaged me in conversation, and were interested in purchasing something. I learned that usually people will only buy what they want or need, though sometimes they can be convinced.
Proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God can feel a bit like selling windows. To some people you’re just annoying, most people show varying degrees of disinterest, and a few people are genuinely interested in what you have to say. However, if you were to use this morning’s Gospel as a sales pitch, I doubt that you would meet with much success. Jesus’ stark presentation of the cost of discipleship is not an easy way to win people round.
Jesus has attracted a large group of people eager to hear what He has to say, so Our Lord explains what discipleship is all about:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:26-27)
Families do not always get on well, but Christians are called to ‘love their enemies’ (Lk 6:27) and to despise our own families, and even our own lives. This seems strange, and paradoxical. Aren’t Christians called to be people of love? Indeed we are, and the primary focus of our love as Christians should be God. Jesus is saying that God should be the most important thing in our life. Nothing should get in the way of the fact that our primary relationship is not with our parents, siblings, spouse, or offspring, but with the God in whose image we were created.
To make that a reality each and every one of us is called to bear a cross, to risk torture and death, and offer the whole of our lives to God. We have to follow Jesus, wherever that may lead. Our commitment has to be total, there is no room here for half-measures. Hence the stark imagery used by Our Lord. Jesus uses strong and disturbing language to shock us. He reminds us that in Him we are called to a new relationship which takes us away from traditional social structures. That means that everyone in the Church becomes our brother and sister, and that our primary responsibility is to love Christ, and follow Him, imitate Him, and take up our own Cross.
Jesus then uses the images of a construction project and warfare to reinforce the point that we need to see the matter through to its conclusion. Jerusalem was no stranger to either. Herod’s rebuilding of the temple took 46 years to complete, and war, or the threat of it, was a constant companion. The point is that there is nothing worse than a half-finished building. It says, ‘They didn’t plan properly, or get the finances in place first’. Likewise in war you fight if you think you can win, otherwise you sue for peace. At this point, we remember and pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and all throughout the world where there is violence and war.
At the end of the Gospel passage Jesus reiterates his main point:
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:33)
Attachment is a problem: stuff cannot save us, only God can. Are possessions useful or pleasant? Certainly. Can we enjoy them? Yes. But the problem occurs when their importance is misplaced. All that really matters is eternal life with God, sharing the Divine life of Love. Nothing we ‘have’ is really ours. We can enjoy it, we can give it away, but in a few years time our earthly life will have ended. There are no pockets in shrouds, as the old saying goes, ‘you can’t take it with you when you go’.
We gather week by week, to hear God’s word read and explained, to pray together, and to be nourished together. We do this so that we may grow together in love. We also do this so that we might embrace the Cross, having died with Christ in our baptism, and being raised to new life with Him, we live out our faith in our lives. Our discipleship is costly and difficult, it calls us to renounce the world and rely upon God, together, as a community of faith. A new community where old ties and distinctions are done away with, where we have a new identity, and are called to a higher purpose.
These are difficult things to do, and the Christian community has for two thousand years, struggled to live up to these goals. But ours is a God who forgives sins and failings, who understands humanity from the inside. We are not written off, or cast aside. We are not abandoned or discarded. This is because we are all made in God’s image, people of infinite intrinsic value. Christ died for us, to give us eternal life, to heal our wounds. He calls us to follow Him, so that we may find His freedom, and share in His triumph over death and sin.
As Christians, we are called to something great and wonderful, to stand, like Christ as a contradiction, offering the world a new way to live: a way of life not of death. A way of generosity and not of selfishness. We are called to renounce the world and instead to embrace the freedom, and joy, that is the life of the Kingdom of God.
It is truly liberating to look at the world and as Jesus wants us to, knowing that all that really matters is loving God, and loving our neighbour. Doing this can be difficult, especially when times are uncertain as they are today, but we know that we can trust the God who loves us, who gives His life for us, who comes to us to feed us with Himself. So let us come and follow him and invite others to do so. Enabling all to sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.