COUNTING THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [PHIL 2:12-18; LK 14:25-33 ]
Many desire to become disciples of Christ but they are not willing to pay the price of discipleship. They seek cheap grace, that is, grace given without a price. Many are ready to take the step towards baptism but few are serious in living the life of Christ and dying to themselves each day. Many seek healing but are not ready to live a healthy lifestyle. Some seek deliverance but are not willing to give up the gods that keep them under bondage. Others join church ministries, desiring membership without commitment; privileges without contribution. Yet others give up simply because of disagreements with fellow members because things were not done their way. And we proclaim loudly that we are serving Christ! In truth, when we are irresponsible and lack perseverance in our duties in ministry work, it is because we are serving ourselves, not God. Under the pretext of serving God, we serve our own interests and preferences. At the root of all the apparent good works we do is “me”!
That is why the gospel today asks us to consider carefully whether we are ready to be His disciples. Jesus is very honest with us. He does not intend to deceive us into thinking that becoming His disciples will give us an easy life. That is why He asks us to count the cost, or else we will be very disappointed and cause more problems to others. We must understand fully what we are undertaking. He said, “And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it?”
It is true that salvation is a free gift from God, given through faith in Christ’s saving death and resurrection. We cannot earn salvation. It is through God’s grace and mercy that God saves us from our sins through no merit of our own. But having received the free gift of salvation, St Paul reminds us of the need to work for our salvation “in fear and trembling.” We cannot presume that just because we are baptized, we are saved. In principle, it is true that Christ died for us all and saved us. But unless we are receptive and open to this grace bestowed by Christ on the cross, we would deprive ourselves of eternal life. For this reason, St Paul himself, having encountered the Lord and received His grace, worked hard to remain in grace and to not lose what had been given to him through negligence and complacency. Otherwise, as the gospel says, Satan and critics of the Church would make fun of us. “Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, ‘Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.'”
What does discipleship entail? Without compromising His words, Jesus said, “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” In a nutshell, a disciple must die to himself each day in his daily life situation, embracing suffering in life positively for his purification and sanctification. Carrying the cross after Jesus would require us to renounce ourselves for the sake of the gospel. It calls for much self-emptying. What does self-emptying really entail?
Firstly, it calls for the renouncement of material possessions. Jesus said, “None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.” This in fact should be the most basic self-emptying virtue that we must cultivate. If we cannot give up material things, we cannot progress to a higher level of giving up oneself. This is only at the elementary level. It is good for us to examine ourselves honestly, how much are we still attached to the things of this world, the comforts that we are used to? Indeed, if we are serious about our spiritual growth, we need to take the path of self-denial in material things. It is not that such things are evil in themselves but that we do not want to be under their control. Without overcoming the world and its temptations, we will never be able to share Christ’s total self-emptying. He was rich but became poor for our sake. (cf 2 Cor 8:9) Sharing our resources with others will ensure that we have the freedom to love. Attachment to our wealth is often the cause of hard-heartedness towards others who need our help.
Secondly, we are called to give up our will. From the giving up of material things, we are called to give up our ego and pride. Many of us are willing to serve God and others. We join Church or voluntary organizations to render our services for free. In itself, this is a noble thing to do. But one thing that is so difficult for us to give up is our ego. We find it difficult to submit to our superiors or to the will of the community. We get involved in heated arguments and wrangling over how and what we should be doing. This is what St Paul told the Philippians, “Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing and then you will be innocent and genuine, perfect children of God among a deceitful and underhand brood, and you will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of life.” God’s will is often expressed through our superiors and the community. By insisting that things be done our way, we only feed our ego and pride.
Thirdly, we are called to do the most difficult of all things, renunciation of people whom we love. Jesus said, “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus of course is not demanding that we literally hate them, but never to allow human relationships to take precedence and priority over our relationship with God. The most difficult idol to give up is often not wealth or even our will, but our attachment to our spouse, children and friends, especially when such friendships are unhealthy. Many of us give much time to human relationships but because we fail to ground our relationships in Christ, such relationships tend to be rocky, selfish, self-centered, possessive, insecure and manipulative. Only when our relationship is rooted in Christ, can that relationship be compassionate, understanding and liberating, since feeling secure in Christ’s love, we do not need to seek to control the person whom we love.
We have St Paul as an exemplar of true discipleship in Christ. He offered his life for the good of his fellowmen and for the sake of Christ. He sacrificed himself as a libation for the extension of Christ’s kingdom. St Paul was one person who gave himself totally like Jesus for others, including his own will and interests. He strove like Jesus to only do the Father’s will. He did all these with full awareness of the price of being an apostle of Christ. He said, “This would give me something to be proud of for the Day of Christ, and would mean that I had not run in the face and exhausted myself for nothing.”
In spite of all these, we must remember that carrying the cross of Jesus is not to be done in a pessimistic manner. Indeed, the joy of seeing the Good News received by others, the joy of seeing people finding meaning in life will be greatest when we offer our lives for others. This was the case with Paul who was filled with joy at seeing the effects of his work. “And then, if my blood has to be shed as part of your own sacrifice and offering – which is your faith – I shall still be happy and rejoice with all of you, and you must be just as happy and rejoice with me.” We too can be joyful. The only reward that will be really satisfying to us is to know that our little efforts have not been wasted but that people have encountered God and His mercy and found the fullness of life through us. Indeed, the cross of Jesus that we carry is a joyful cross, if borne voluntarily, vicariously for the good of others.
How can we carry our cross after Jesus cheerfully? It presupposes that we have established intimacy with the Lord and are always at His feet, basking and breathing in His love for us, like the psalmist who said, “There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life, to savour the sweetness of the Lord, to behold his temple.” The joy and strength of the psalmist is from the Lord. This is what the response says, “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom shall I shrink? …Hope in him, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord!” So in our trials and despondency, we must turn to Him for wisdom, direction and strength.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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