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Jaime L. WatersAugust 29, 2022
Stained glass windows in the cathedral depicting Jesus, his disciples, and an angel at Gethsemane as the Roman soldiers arrive to arrest him. (Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.)

The Gospel for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time has some challenging language and assertions that could be difficult to appreciate and follow. Yet the sentiment of the Gospel offers us important perspectives on Christian discipleship that can inform how we think about ourselves and our work.

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27)

Liturgical day
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Readings
Wis 9:13-18, Ps 90, Phm 9-17, Lk 14:25-33
Prayer

What can you do to live out the Gospel message of love?

How do you respond to disagreements and conflict?

What practices help you to reflect on your own calling?

The context for today’s Gospel is helpful for understanding the text. Over the past few chapters in Luke, Jesus has had interactions with large crowds, smaller groups of followers and Jewish leaders. To each group, he has taught different aspects of the kingdom of God and requirements associated with discipleship. Through acts of healing and service, storytelling and reflections on himself and his ministry, Jesus demonstrates elements of discipleship in order to inspire his community.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches about the requirements associated with living out the Gospel. Some of Jesus’ teachings here, about “hating” one’s family and own life and assessing one’s ability to build a tower, might be best read as hyperboles. Yet Jesus draws on images rooted in difficult lived experiences to shock his audience and inspire action. Fittingly and powerfully, Jesus associates discipleship with bearing a cross: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus uses similar language: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Jesus uses the image of the cross as a model and example of discipleship. Interpreting this language in light of the larger Gospel narrative allows us to see the significance of this imagery, as Jesus uses his sacrificial death as a model for his followers. Jesus calls on believers to live, preach and minister in light of the cross which requires a willingness to offer oneself for the sake of others.

While the language and imagery are evocative, we should note that these texts do not intend to promote suffering or enduring abusive situations. This language has a potential to be misused to downplay or ignore suffering, valorizing it as a condition of discipleship. Instead, the self-sacrificial love that Jesus alludes to with the cross should be understood in light of the larger Gospel message of love of God and neighbor, promoting service as a way of living out the Gospel. We should be mindful of and avoid potentially harmful interpretations that could inadvertently or even intentionally excuse suffering and abuse.

Today’s Gospel also echoes past Sundays by expressing divisions and distance that could emerge because of discipleship. Jesus speaks of hatred between parents and children, spouses and siblings, similar to the Gospels of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Sundays in Ordinary Time, which note that not all people will be receptive to the Gospel message of love which can cause division, even amongst family members. Jesus reiterates these potential divisions so that his followers understand what participation in his ministry entails and so that they see themselves as cultivating a new family of faith. Jesus’ transparency might be difficult, but it helps his community to choose discipleship, even if it is costly.

Finally, Jesus highlights the financial costs associated with his work. He calls for his followers to give up their possessions. The language assumes that Jesus speaks to people with financial means, and it envisions them giving up security and financial status. Another inference could be that by following Jesus, believers might make themselves vulnerable to persecution, loss of status and livelihood.

So, why be a follower of Jesus? Today’s Gospel does not make discipleship particularly appealing. If we think of this reading not as an advertisement for discipleship but a reflection on discerning discipleship, it might be more impactful. Jesus discloses conditions of discipleship in order to spark critical inquiry and serious examination. He wants his followers to be thoughtful, considering the pros and cons and choosing to follow him despite the risks. As we reflect on this reading, we can be inspired to pursue thoughtful and ongoing discernment of our own calls to be followers of Christ.

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