So, not only is following Jesus a sacrifice, giving up all sorts of apparently likeable things, but it’s also a sacrifice that comes with persecutions as the icing on the cake of discipleship. Who in their proper, rational, sensible mind would choose such a thing for their life? Not only to make sacrifices, but sacrifice while getting beat up for it! (Sounds like something the Red Sox did to the Yankees this past week).
No wonder why the disciples were exceedingly astonished. And they were not only astonished, but dumbfounded and uncertain as to whether they were going to continue to stand by the side of Jesus for the remainder of this ministerial initiative called the Kingdom of God. Isn’t that the easiest way to lose a friend? To tell them something along the lines that if they wish to remain friends with you, they have to make all sorts of difficult sacrifices, like families and livelihoods, and then get persecuted for your friendship with them? I’d be like, “Have a nice day. Hope to see you in the next life.”
We return to this fundamental Christian understanding time and time again as we pass through these Gospels from one Sunday to the next. And the message never gets old. The thought that Jesus is very demanding toward those of us who want to be his disciples. Like yourself, I consider myself to be his disciple. A weak one, but his disciple nonetheless. I’ll follow him all the way to heaven in my UPS Truck. He’s the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I wish not to follow anyone else in this world of time and space, this very short life. No one!
We seek good advice and knowledge from others in their respective fields of expertise. I listen to my doctor because he’s pretty good. He really cares about my health. He told me early on that he doesn’t want to answer to God for not taking good care of me. But, I don’t want to follow him like I would follow Christ, and be his disciple. The only possibility of following someone aside of Jesus and Mary, is if I believe someone to be a living Saint.
Like if I was alive in the 1950’s and 60’s, I would have loved to have traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo and met Padre Pio, now St. Pio. I would have loved to have met Mother Teresa, because you just knew she was going to heaven when she died. I would follow them to Christ. But my doctor? Nice guy who does good work, but I’m not following him. Yet, in his hard work of trying to bring me to better health, to arrive at better numbers for cholesterol and whatever else, my doctor is far less demanding than Jesus.
The demands of God begin with the 10 Commandments that we’re supposed to memorize by the time we leave the 3rd or 4th grade. And this son of Israel who runs up to Jesus in the Gospel, kneels down before him, asking the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life; well, he’s kept to perfection all the commandments that Moses carried down the mountain. “I kept them all,” he says to Jesus. How many of us can say the same? When he says he’s kept the commandments from his youth, he’s not talking about the last week or two. He kept these beautiful commandments of God his entire life. This guy is on his way to the Communion of Saints. I would even consider following him. Until, that is, he falls flat the face of his possessions.
When Jesus demanded more because the Lord saw this guy’s great potential for goodness, and his potential for being his disciple, the guy who rushed up to Jesus and knelt at his feet, he now drew a line in the sand. To paraphrase, he said to Christ, “I can’t cross that line. I need all my goods.” On the first floor of his life, the easy floor, he was able to maintain a clean house where all the commandments were lived out to perfection. The first floor was in perfect order. But as Christ called him a little closer to heaven on the second floor of his life; “Come up the stairs where all your possessions are placed in the attic,” it was a mess which he didn’t have the heart to clean up. Even if all his possessions were in perfect order like his commandments, he couldn’t cross that line of Jesus’ demand.
This Gospel for us is much less about selling all we have. If we did that, we’d all be homeless. I don’t believe God wants that for any of us. While the Gospel this week is less about selling all we own, it’s much more about a certain type of dependency. A dependency that trusts that God has it all covered for us. From the goods of the earth to death itself. And everything in between. The radicalness to our faith is less about selling everything and more about allowing ourselves, through his grace, to be dependent upon him in all matters. Not many people arrive there.
Dependency is another one of those tough religious words today, alongside of obedience. We see dependency as identifying ourselves as a weak person. How many times have we heard, “I don’t want to burden anyone with my difficulties.” My advice is, “Burden them.” Give someone the chance to care about you, to perform an act of love. It will help your life and theirs too. It’s the same with the Lord. Give Him a chance to feel burdened. He would love it if we did.