Fall into Love’s Embrace
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2022
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself,
cannot be my disciple.
Am I to conclude that when I was 12-years-old
and I told my parents that I hated them,
it was actually one of my better moments,
I was unknowingly at the threshold of truer Christian discipleship?
Hate — such an ugly word, because such an ugly attitude of heart.
Once again, what is Jesus saying?!?
No more Mr. Nice Guy?
Is this simply a rare glimpse of Jesus’ darker side?
If so, at this point, there may be a few other religions looking rather attractive!
How does one reconcile such hate with I John 4:8: “God is love”?
And with subsequent Christian insights, based on this revelation,
like that of Brother Roger Schutte, who died in 2005,
founder of the beautiful ecumenical monastic Community of Taizé, France
who says, Our hope is in God,
a God who simply loves and can do nothing else,
a God who never stops seeking us.
Let’s take a closer look, always leaning on such theological patrimony.
The discourse does open and close with strong, very unsettling statements.
These statements, in turn,
frame two examples that Jesus gives of “prudential planning”
What is discipleship?
There are two obvious aspects to discipleship:
In other words, true discipleship is always loving.
Jesus says in John’s gospel 15:15,
I no longer call you servants; I call you friends,
for I have told you everything I have heard from the Father.
Paraphrased: “I give you all that is in my heart”.
With these two parables about prudence,
i.e. about discerning right means to a specific end,
Jesus invites us to discern right means to the end that is loving discipleship.
And so, I can ask myself:
what human means do I have at my disposal
to live in communion with Christ and follow him?
My network? My bank account? My degree? My cleverness? My stamina?
My social media savvy? My well-tuned public persona? My decent track record?
How about my sense of right and wrong or my creative intuitions?
Strictly speaking, I am at a loss regarding how
to live in communion with Christ and follow him.
Jesus here is, really, provoking, by means of extreme statements,
the discovery that we cannot be disciples of our own means and doing.
Jesus clearly articulates this earlier in the same John 15, verse 5:
Apart from me you can do nothing.
Jesus, of course, is not talking about the many human things that we can do—like make French toast, spend money, raise kids, or even manage a business.
Jesus is talking about relationship and discipleship with Him.
Jesus makes of us disciples.
As God says through the prophet Isaiah, chapter 55:9,
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways.
Which surely informs Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian
killed in the Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945:
Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend;
it must transcend all comprehension.
Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension.
In this gospel, Jesus reveals the absoluteness of His person and presence
and reveals the only way to enter into relationship with Him
and thus to be a true disciple:
who died from tuberculosis at age 24 in 1897, says,
Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender.
This is a question not of will-power but of willingness.
And this, as suggested, is a gift.
Jesus touches us from start to finish, on the front end and the back end.
In allowing Christ free reign, we are drawn into the mystery of the Cross, “God so loving the world” (John 3:16).
This is the deeper reality of discipleship.
Christian discipleship is not behavioral imitation of Jesus from afar.
Jesus says—with no warm and fuzzy in sight!--
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”, “Carry the cross” of course, means
to accept daily hardship as part of our journey in Christ’s footsteps.
But, more deeply, Jesus is referring to His Cross
(which we will celebrate in a special way next Sunday, the feast of…),
the mystery of Him pouring Himself forth in love, loving through death.
To “carry the cross” is willingly to be drawn into this mystery.
This will imply accepting hardship.
But, more importantly, it means letting Jesus visit and love me in my hardship
and then lead me to love there where I never thought it possible.
Let us willingly yield and fall into Love’s embrace...