5 September 2010    TRINITY I4   PROPER 18    Luke 14.25-33  

The requirements of discipleship

Jesus said that those who wish to be his disciples must fulfil three conditions. They must hate their nearest and dearest. They must give up their possessions. They must carry their cross and lay down their lives.

When he says we must hate our kindred he uses a Semitic idiom meaning we must always prefer Jesus if there is a conflict of loyalties between him and them. A young African martyr met her death because she did what Jesus said. Her cause was promoted by the Cowley fathers and then by brethren of our Community who worked in Sekukhuniland in South Africa. Now her statue has a place of honour above the main door of Westminster Abbey.

Manche Masemola wanted to be baptised but her parents were heathen and did all they could to prevent her. The parish priest told her to obey her parents but she said she couldnít refuse Christís call, even though her parents repeatedly beat her. In the end they thrashed her until she died. She was only 14. They tried to bury her in the heathen cemetery but wherever they dug they hit rock a foot below the surface. Then, frightened that they might be prosecuted, they secretly buried her on a hill in the bush near the village. The grave was eventually found and is now a place of pilgrimage where Mass is offered. Itís still very simple, just a tiny clearing, surrounded by trees and nearby is a large rock where it is said Manche often sat praying all night until the sun came up. Many years later her parents became Christians and were baptised.    

Jesus told the crowd that if they wished to be his disciples they must hate their closest relatives, carry their cross and shed their possessions. Why did he choose these requirements?

Before he began the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus told the disciples that they must carry their cross and follow him. Now, as they approach Jerusalem, the situation is tense. The crowd and even the apostles expected Jesus to claim his throne but he knew that he was called to suffering and death. Soon, even his clothes would be stripped off him. He tells them that his disciples must share all this.

Eventually we see that many did. Yes, when Jesus was arrested they ran away and hid but then, strengthened by the resurrection and ascension of the Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they were ready to face persecution, imprisonment, torture and death.  It was not just the apostles but many ordinary Christians whom Saul and others harried and stoned. The first Christians shared their possessions with the needy and in the process became poor themselves.

Jesus in todayís Gospel tells two parables to teach that itís the height of folly and itís courting disaster to embark on a great enterprise without being as sure as possible in advance of having the reserves and the ability to carry it through. We shouldnít accept the demands of discipleship out of sentimental enthusiasm. We should work out the cost in advance and ask ourselves if we have the reserves needed.

What about us? Do these requirements of discipleship apply to us? Should we prefer the call of Jesus to the needs and views of our family? I imagine many religious have faced this challenge. Must we give away all our possessions? As we get older we want security and comfort. What sense can we make of the carrying of a cross? One commentator says it means bearing and not evading oneís destiny and difficulties. In old age most face infirmity and pain and thatís certainly part of their cross.

The conditions of discipleship ensure we are totally available to follow Christ. They require us to be detached from human relations, from possessions and from life itself so that if and when required we can give up any or all of these. When we hear what we think may be the call of Christ we should anticipate its demands and ensure that we have the resources and the capacity to meet them.   

Itís true that he who calls will supply the means and the strength to follow.

Crispin Harrison CR