Entrance Antiphon: Ps 119(118):137, 124 — “You are just, O Lord, and Your judgment is right; treat Your servant in accord with Your merciful love.”
First Reading: Wis 9:13-18b — “Who can conceive what the Lord intends?”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17 — “In every age, O Lord, You have been our refuge.”
Second Reading: Phlm 9-10, 12-17 — “Receive him no longer as a slave but as a beloved brother.”
Alleluia: Ps 119:135 — Alleluia, alleluia. “Let Your face shine upon Your servant; and teach me Your laws.” Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Lk 14:25-33 — “Anyone of you who does not renounce all possessions cannot be My disciple.”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 42(41):2-3 — “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for You, my God; my soul is thirsting for God, the living God.”
“If anyone comes after Me," Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, "without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Is that really the good news we’re receiving this week from the Gospel? Can Jesus really be serious?
In this passage hating, for Jesus, meant simply detaching oneself from someone or something. What He was really saying is that God ... God the Father must come first. That is how Jesus Himself lived. Even at age twelve, Jesus put His love for His heavenly Father ahead of His love for Mary and Joseph by staying behind in Jerusalem after His earthly parents had left. Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house? (Lk 2:49). This is what Jesus asked them when they scolded Him for staying behind. Saint Luke tells us they did not understand what He said to them (Lk 2:50). But Jesus understood, even though He was only a boy.
Let me also say that love for the Lord does not exclude other loves ... but it puts them in the right order. God is not jealous. How could the One who is love, and who in creating us in His image and likeness, and who has given us the ability to love, be jealous of what He has made? Jesus asks everything of us because He has given us everything.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower, Jesus asks, does not first sit down and calculate the cost? It was the dream of every small farmer in Palestine in Jesus’ day to have a proper tower on his property, rather than merely a shed. During harvest time he could sleep in the tower, keeping watch for trespassers and predatory animals.
Valuable as such a tower might be, Jesus’ hearers also knew that it would be folly to start building one without first calculating whether the available resources were sufficient to complete the job. If they were not, the farmer would have nothing to show for his hard work but some useless foundations. And his friends would laugh at him for his impulsiveness.
The second teaching begins differently: not Which of you? but, What king? That, too, was easy to understand, even though no one hearing Jesus’ words was a king with an army at his disposal. Common to both teachings is the sentence about sitting down first and counting the cost. The first step in any important undertaking, Jesus was saying, is not action, but reflection. All too often, we act first and reflect later (if we even reflect at all). The crowds who followed Jesus with so much enthusiasm had not reflected. When they did finally reflect, much later on, some of them would shout: “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”
If you want to be My disciple, Jesus says, count the cost. First reflect. Then act. So, let’s reflect. If following Jesus Christ really means putting Him first – ahead of money, possessions, success, those we love, sports, our job, our hobbies – which of us could say with confidence that we had the necessary self-denial and staying power?
And having said all that, does that mean we shouldn’t follow Jesus Christ? And I think you all should know the answer to that ... Of course not! It does mean, however, that we should never try to follow Jesus while depending on our own resources alone. That would mean certain failure. If today’s Gospel is good news, it is because of what it does NOT say: that we can find adequate resources for Christian discipleship on our own. What we could never achieve on our own, we can achieve if we depend on the strength that comes from God alone.
That is why Jesus tells us in several places to become like little children (Mt 18:3). Little children are naturally dependent on others. It never occurs to them that they can make it on their own. As children grow, we adults encourage them to become more and more independent, and to take risks. That is fine in the things of this world.
In spiritual things, however, and hence in our relationship with God, we must unlearn that spirit of independence which, in worldly affairs, is the difference between maturity and childhood. When it comes to following Jesus Christ, we dare not trust in our own resources. If we do, we are like the farmer building his tower without calculating the cost, or like the king setting out recklessly on a military campaign against impossible odds.
Jesus never asks us to fight against impossible odds. He does not want us to build with inadequate resources. That is why Jesus assures us that God will provide us with what we need to live as His faithful disciples. If we trust in the power which God alone can give us, we are safe. We can build with confidence. We can set out with confidence against seemingly impossible odds.
We are gathered around these twin tables of Word and Sacrament to receive that power that can do for us what we can never do for ourselves. This power is not something impersonal, a kind of spiritual electricity, as if we were here to get our batteries charged for another week. The power that is offered to us here is a person.
His name is Jesus Christ.