Today we see Jesus in a preferred mode of action and ministry – travelling across the land and preaching to crowds as they assembled to hear his message. Perhaps we need to take ourselves back to his world to fully imagine the scene – a time when life was difficult for most, daily toil was physical and often for little reward, and recreation was more of a luxury and rarity.
Jesus speaks of some of the realities that people had to confront in their daily lives – the servitude of labouring tasks (like building a tower) and the awareness of or even fear of war. Most people who heard the parables of Jesus were peasants, slaves, or labourers so they knew and experienced life as a hard road to travel.
If read literally, then Jesus sayings seem to add to their burdens. His words do seem to make some severe demands upon them – at least that is what the English translations seem to suggest.
So instead of taking these words literally let us reflect on the essence of what Jesus asks and offers.
Firstly, let us see his call as one inviting a disciple to make Jesus the centre of his or her life. To me this is the meaning behind the challenge to put aside family relationships (or possessions) and to make one’s core choice, a choice for Jesus. It does not necessarily mean abandoning family, rather it is a matter of who occupies the centre!
Further, the disciple is reminded that this choosing of Jesus is not without cost. To follow a charismatic leader, and more so to stand with him against aspects of life that are at odds with true human development, will attract opposition (as it did for Jesus). There will be obstacles to face and overcome and these can be seen as crosses to carry. There are also those limitations that arise from within the human heart – doubts, worry, the feeling of unworthiness – these too are crosses to carry bravely. Finally, we might see too that some crosses arise from life itself – illness, disappointments in relationships, hurts that are caused by others and to carry all of these things – and still serve and love others in Jesus name – requires faith, trust and courage.
What Jesus offers is the assurance that none of these obstacles can keep us from him or indeed keep him from standing close to us.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is the Provincial Superior of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.