13 Pentecost, Year C: Highest Love

SUNDAY’S READINGS | September 4, 2022

Jer. 18:1-11 or Deut. 30:15-20
Ps. 139:1-5, 12-17 or Ps. 1
Phm. 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Discipleship is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but with forethought and consideration of the cost.

“For which of you,” says Jesus, “intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid the foundations and is not able to finish, all who see it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace” (Luke 14:28-32).

Like a building project that cannot be completed or a war that cannot be won, discipleship may seem an impossibly difficult task, so we may decide it is better not to start. Like the rich young man who could not part with his many possessions, we may walk away grieving (Matt. 19:22). A similar story: After hearing Jesus say, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” — a difficult teaching indeed — “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:53, 66).

Jesus asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:67). In asking, he awaits our reply. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). The baptized are those who, at least ideally, have counted the cost and deemed it right and good to walk with Jesus on a path toward eternal life.

Jesus tells us about the cost in graphic language, employing exaggeration to grasp and focus our attention. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. … So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:26, 27, 33).

We cannot live by the two great commandments and actually hate our parents, spouse, children, and siblings. Indeed, love of neighbor is the definitive test of whether we truly love God. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:19-21). Using the word hate, Jesus is employing what John Henry Newman called a “merciful severity with which he repels us that he may gain us more truly” (“Unreal Words,” Parochial and Plain Sermons). Jesus is calling for a total and unconditional commitment to a love (himself) higher than all natural affections and by which familial love is transformed and properly ordered.

We turn to Jesus as the very source of life. “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days” (Deut. 30:19-20). The Latin Vulgate is even stronger: “He himself is indeed your life!”

Look It Up: Psalm 1:3

Think About It: Jesus is a stream of living water.

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