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The Cost of Discipleship

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The cost of being one of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Luke is steep. As we learn on the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, to follow Jesus may require us to leave behind everything.

Last Sunday, we heard that Jesus’ messianic mission is directing him toward a sacrificial death for the sake of the nations. Today, Jesus is moving toward the city of Jerusalem. His ministry in the rest of the Gospel will be defined by his mission of self-giving love upon the Cross.

Jesus’ mission is not always successful. He walks through Samaria, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, “but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem” (Lk 9:53). The peace of the Gospel meets the resistance of an old dispute between the Judeans and the Samaritans. They cannot welcome the Lord because his mission does not align with their own.

Out of the hostile crowd emerges a voice, “‘I will follow you wherever you go’” (Lk 9:57). Jesus is normally the one who calls disciples, and yet now, someone cries out to him. This unnamed disciple will go anywhere with Jesus. For us, the readers of the Gospel, we know that Jesus’ mission is moving toward Calvary. This man, whether he knows it or not, is proclaiming to Jesus that he will follow him to death itself.

Jesus lets this recent disciple know the cost of his promise. The Son of Man, the great prophet from the Book of Daniel who is Jesus Christ, is homeless. He goes where he goes. The disciple-to-be is very willing to follow with just one request, “‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father’” (Lk 9:59).

The disciple is not making excuses. He is performing that great religious duty required of all those who follow the Law. He is following the example of Tobit, who risks his very life and fortune to bury the dead. And yet Jesus says, “‘Let the dead bury their own dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’” (Lk 9:60).

The Kingdom of God, for Jesus, is a kind of martial state. Under normal circumstances, the dead should be buried. Under normal circumstances, we should say goodbye to our family. But, discipleship under Jesus calls for immediate action. God’s about to turn the world upside down.

To be a disciple of Jesus, one set free through Christ, is a costly vocation. Christians are those so in love with Jesus that they will follow the Lord wherever called.

This kind of discipleship is undoubtedly complicated for many of us. As a married father, I cannot just leave behind my family at the drop of a hat. Pastors of parishes cannot leave their flock because they feel called elsewhere.

But Jesus is still calling us to a costly discipleship even within our family lives. Even in the midst of our pastoral responsibilities.

I would be a bad father if I just left my child to fend for himself. But I would be an equally bad Christian father if I treated my son as the center of my existence. If I enslaved myself to his being through worshipping him. If he became my god.

I am a good father when I show my son that my fundamental identity is a disciple of Jesus, willing to follow the Lord wherever I am called. That means I need to pray. I need spiritual direction to assist me in hearing God’s voice.

And I need to cry out every day, “Lord I will follow you wherever you call me.” There’s a cost to this promise. Especially for those of us with families. Are we ready to keep it?

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor: Newsweekly on June 15, 2016 and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.

Featured Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Timothy P. O’Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, associate professional specialist in the department of theology at the University of Notre Dame, and founding editor for Church Life.