In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Today's gospel begins with two of Jesus' demands:
- “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."
He follows that teaching with two parables:
- A fellow starts building a tower but, for lack of funds, cannot finish it.
- A king determines whether his army can meet an invading enemy far from home. If not, he'll attempt to negotiate.
These are common sense considerations. Obviously you don't begin a major building project unless you have the resources to finish it. Obviously, you don't oppose an invading army without assessing your own strength. Only a fool would think otherwise.
Only a fool would want to follow Jesus if he is not prepared to renounce all his possessions.
When the young Francis of Assisi set out to follow the Lord he didn't know what the price might be. After his experience at Spoleto he knew he could not continue in his old ways. Pursuing glory as a mercenary was a fool's errand. He had already been defeated in battle, imprisoned for a year and ransomed by his long-suffering father. Why would he try again? Yet he had set out again with spear, sword, horse and armor to do battle with no particular enemy for no particular reason until, in the middle of the night, the Lord challenged him, "Francis, is it better to serve the lord or the servant?"
He replied to that Invisible Presence, "It's better to serve the lord!"
"So why are you serving the servant?"
Realizing that God was speaking to him he said, "What would you have me do?"
"Go back to Assisi. There I will tell you what to do."
He returned but it was a long time before he knew what to do. He only knew he must serve the Lord and not his own ambition. Eventually he would have another inspiration. Hearing the gospel of renunciation, "Carry no sack, wear no money belt, wear no shoes..." he took up the life of poverty.
But he soon realized that poverty was more than not owning stuff. He must also renounce reputation, security, ambition, success, position and so forth. He could not own any kind of capital -- fiscal, social or intellectual. Even his virtue would belong entirely to God.
The Lord calls most of us less abruptly. Baptized, we are permitted to "own" some things and might even suppose they are ours. We amass homes, cars, education, degrees, experience, reputation, health and, more importantly, loved ones. Some people like to add a few bad habits -- smoking, alcoholism, gambling addictions -- for good measure. We identify ourselves among all these possessions. We say not only, "This is mine;" we say, "This is me."
Until one day an accident or foolish behavior or bad luck or the Lord strips away those precious things. Many of those things we never even noticed their loss. They just drifted out of our possession. But some things we could not surrender and we struggled. In fact, we seemed to be dying. Just as we never imagined they might be gone, we cannot imagine living without them. Life stopped. Some people literally commit suicide over the loss of money, a position, or a relationship.
More often than not we didn't even realize how much we had invested in those things. We were dumbfounded by grief. We may complain,"It's not fair!" as if the Judge of Rightness should hear that complaint and set things back the way they were.
In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”"For freedom Christ set us free!" Paul declared and Jesus said, "... if a son frees you, then you will truly be free."
Surrounded by our possessions we cannot imagine what freedom is, and we're likely to be sorely misguided by popular notions of freedom. I'm sure it has nothing to do with owning a gun, procuring an abortion or "shop till you drop."
Stripped even of visions of happiness, peace, security and freedom, we follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
On a personal note, Thank you God Father, Son and Spirit
for forty-five years of life
as a solemnly professed Franciscan friar.