As we move toward the end of the Liturgical Year, the liturgical readings become very strong and the challenges are quite focused. This is always a time where the eschaton, or the end times becomes the energy which challenges the church. Just as it did in the apostolic period, so too, we are challenged and asked if we are taking Jesus’ coming seriously. And today is no different, as the church invites us into our reflections on discipleship.
In the Gospel today, we see a strong sense of division. Jesus says we have to turn our backs on our fathers and mothers, wives and children, brothers and sisters, and indeed our very self. Otherwise we can not be his followers. This is a rather strong statement. But I think it touches the very seed of free choice and thus discipleship. In order to freely choose something for my life means something else will get excluded. Saying "Yes" to something means I must also say "No" to something else. So turning our backs toward something means we also turn our faces toward something. This is what discipleship is—taking a radical stand against what might be popular or profitable to say "Yes" to the call of Jesus and the challenge of the gospel.
Certainly Jesus isn’t speaking literally here because there is no possible way for a person to turn their back on themselves. So what is it that we need to turn our backs toward would be those things that hinder or obstruct our growth. In doing so our eyes and ears are now focused toward the one who calls us. (Have you ever noticed how deep and rich the call of the Lord is in Scripture?)
Luke reminds us that this call to discipleship has a price. As the man who builds the tower, or the king who marches into battle do their calculations previous to accepting the task, so too does a disciple know of the price. Are you aware of what price you pay to be a disciple of Jesus?
Paul the apostle certainly knew the price. He asks the Philippian’s community to get in touch with the goodness of God which had been poured out upon them. Reflection upon this doesn’t leave room for grumbling and complaining because it is more prone to honor, gratitude and thanksgiving. Paul’s instruction challenges one to choose the things which are good and right. In doing so, there will be no room for grumbling or arguing. Again, turning towards something means turning one’s back towards something else.
Paul of the Cross used to teach the same truth. So frequently in his letters he invited people to know the divine good in their life and want it, pursue it, desire it. In doing so you choose that which is good.
When I know and understand divine good, it is something I pursue. It is then easier to turn my back towards whatever hinders this pursuit; simply because the light, goodness, truth, wisdom and beauty of the grace calling me is so loud and so profound that it is worth the ultimate sacrifice–my life.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.