31st Wednesday in Ordinary Time
Phil 2:12-18; Lk 14:25-33
In the gospel reading we just heard, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Pretty harsh words, right? I think Jesus was using the rhetorical device of hyperbole – he was exaggerating to make his point. It’s similar to when he said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” The concept he was trying to get across was detachment from all things of this world and following God with an undivided heart. And this is born out by the final verse of this passage: “In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Before that final verse Jesus had used the example of the man building a tower and the king marching into battle. If you’re about to launch into a great undertaking, you’d better not go off half-cocked. You need to sit down and calculate what it entails. Following God and ending up in heaven isn’t something you fall into by default – you have to work hard for it. You have to sell everything else you have, like the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price.
For the first three centuries of Christianity it was tough to follow Jesus. From the standpoint of the world it was disadvantageous. Christians didn’t get the good jobs, and there were persecutions. There was a high price to pay for being Christian. Then in 310 there was the Edict of Milan when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Then being a Christian became a little too easy and soft. Monasticism was a natural reaction to this new situation. Our forefathers and mothers were trying to get back to the times when being a Christian meant making a clean break with this world and living distinctly for the next.
Seeing the theme of monasticism in the texts of our liturgy this morning is not too far-fetched. One of the stanzas of our responsorial psalm reads, “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple.” What a beautiful verse to contemplate when sitting with the Lord and being grateful for our wonderful vocation.
And even our first reading from the second chapter of Philippians can lend itself to the theme that I have been developing. I had said one doesn’t just go to heaven by default. St. Paul urges the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” And St. Benedict in his Rule cautions in many places against the sin of grumbling or murmuring. St. Paul here says, “Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life.”
Are we currently living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation? I think the case could probably be made. It’s becoming increasingly counter-cultural to embrace a monastic vocation these days. If you don’t think there is a lot of junk going on in the world right now, perhaps you need to check to see if you’re not like the frog in the pot with the heat being slowly turned up. Granted, there has always been evil and tragedy in the world; and there is still a whole lot of good out there. But the current taking us away from God and godly things is strong. If we’re truly going to follow Jesus we need to give it all we’ve got – we can’t play both ends against the middle and hedge our bets. We have to be all in or we’ll lose.