If Jesus were to appear in front of you today and tell you: “Come, follow me!” what would your reaction be? Would you immediately say “Yes” or would you ask Jesus for some time to settle your personal and family affairs? What are you prepared to give up in order to follow Jesus? When Jesus told His prospective disciples Peter and his brother Andrew “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”; they got it, and immediately left ALL and followed Him. That is the cost of true discipleship, leaving ALL for Christ, expecting no limelight, and offering no excuses.
What is the cost of discipleship? Today’s gospel gives us a very clear picture of what is required of us. It can also be frightening picture. The gospel story tells us that we must be prepared to give up all things that we value in order to follow Jesus. No value, no ‘good thing’, no person, can take precedence over the call to follow Jesus and become his disciple. As we examine the gospel story, we see three different scenarios:
Jesus’ answer to the first question that although all other creatures may have a home, the Son of Man himself has no permanent home, highlights the point that a disciple needs to give up all forms of security in order to follow Jesus. What are some of our securities – it may be a good job, or a good education, or a good family.
The second man excused himself from following Jesus immediately because he expressed his need to fulfill his filial obligation to bury his father. For the Jews as well as for the Chinese, looking into the funeral arrangements of one’s parents is one of the most important duties a person must fulfilled. Yet even this, according to Jesus, does not take precedence over the call to follow Jesus.
Lastly, the third man who meets Jesus receives the answer that if one has begun to follow Jesus, there is no turning back – “once the hand is laid on the plow, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
These three men and their different situations are used as examples to illustrate the high cost of discipleship. They are not to be read literally. Jesus is not asking us to be uncivil or to discard our obligations to our parents and elders. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus tells us that service to God should never be used as an excuse to escape from one obligation to one’s parents. But the meaning of the present gospel story is that one must be prepared to die to one’s own personal likes and dislikes and personal agenda in order to follow Jesus. In other words, today’s gospel is related to last week’s gospel where Jesus tells the disciples: if you wish to be my disciples, you must deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow me.
In the first reading, we see Elisha, after having answered the call of Elijah, slaughter the oxen and burns the plow which represents his past profession. This action of his is very significant. It means that he is giving up everything: he is abandoning for good his life of rich farmer and he is embracing a new profession: to be prophet in the following of Elijah. This is a sign of firm commitment. Once we have decided to follow Jesus, there is no turning back. We must burn our bridges and our boats that we have left behind. This is the meaning of Christian commitment and Christian discipleship. Let us pray during today’s Mass, that we will receive the strength and the courage to follow Jesus and also be firm in our commitment. “Once our hand is laid on the plough,” there is no turning back.
I believe this willingness to give God control of one’s life is what Jesus means when he tells his disciples, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Perhaps he does mean to sell everything ― as he instructed the rich young man who wanted to join the kingdom. But maybe it means to “let go and let God.” We do not lose control of our lives, for we are finally freed from sin’s bondage to enjoy them. Nor do we become poorer in doing so. Everything we have (including our lives) already belongs to God. We share in spiritual richness as we become God’s children and Jesus’ siblings!
What is it that you are hanging on to today that keeps you from becoming a true disciple of Jesus?