by Brother Julian McDonald cfc

“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and wave them good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” Luke 14, 25-33

In today’s gospel reading, Luke illustrates how Jesus used Semitic exaggeration to shock his audience into putting their lives into perspective. Fully aware that the very foundation of gospel living is love of God through love of everyone we encounter, Luke points out that Jesus expects of us, his disciples, nothing less than complete commitment. This gospel message of single-minded dedication to Jesus is reinforced by the accompanying readings from Wisdom and Paul’s Letter to Philemon. The first reminds us that we will come to know what God expects of us by opening ourselves to the process of discernment and listening to those who bring wisdom. The second reading and the gospel present us with the wisdom of Paul and Jesus. Paul urges Philemon to welcome back with love his runaway slave, Onesimus, to grant him his freedom and treat him as an equal. After all, try as we might, we will not succeed in possessing anyone. Health care workers do not own their patients, lawyers do not own their clients, teachers do not own their students, husbands do not own their wives and parents do not own their children. Yet we come across situations when we see professionals trying to possess those they are meant to serve and accompany, teachers acting as though they own their students, parents clinging unhealthily to their children, and spouses behaving as though their partners were their property.

Today’s gospel is about the vocation of discipleship of Jesus, a vocation to which we all lay claim. Jesus himself spells out the cost of walking in his footsteps. It means letting go of possessiveness, walking beside others as our sisters and brothers, loving them for themselves and for who they are as the beloved of God, and not for ourselves or for what they can give us. That involves nothing less than taking up the Cross, and doing it day after day.

Over recent years, social scientists in the first world have commented on how a consumerist culture has crowded out what was once regarded as a vocational culture. Wearing the correct, old school tie, graduating from a prestigious university and having the right connections are preferable to having a sense of being called to service of those passed over, or fighting for the rights of society’s discards.

A former university campus minister recently made this telling comment: “Over ten years of being in charge of campus ministry, I received only a couple of calls from distraught parents pleading for me to reach out to a son or daughter caught in drug or alcohol addiction. In the same period I received dozens of calls from concerned parents, lamenting that their children had chosen to volunteer to serve in Church- sponsored outreaches: ‘I paid a fortune for my son to get a law degree, and instead he has become a religious fanatic, wanting to teach in a Catholic primary school in Malawi.’ ‘I thought my daughter was intent on being an architect, and now I find she has signed up for two years of service to a Caritas feeding programme in Haiti.’”

Chiune Sugihara grew up in pre-World War II Japan with a fervent desire to become the Japanese ambassador to Russia. By the late 1930s, he was ambassador to Lithuania, little more than a stone’s-throw from realising his dream. His career was suddenly turned into something that looked more like a vocation. One morning he woke to find a large crowd gathered outside the gates of his ambassador’s residence in Vilnius. It turned out that these people were Jews who had walked with their meagre possessions from Poland. They had come in search of Japanese visas, which would allow them to escape from Gestapo controlled Eastern Europe to the relative safety of Japan. Sugihara cabled Tokyo three times, seeking permission to grant visas. Three times his request was denied. He found himself faced with the difficult choice between realising his dream as an ambassador and rescuing thousands of Jews. He opted for the latter, and chose to disobey orders. For close to four weeks, he wrote out visas by hand, refusing to eat and sleep, until he was recalled to Berlin. As his train pulled away from the platform, he was still writing visas and passing them through the window to desperate, Jewish refugees. He saved more than six thousand Jews and lost his career and his wealth for his trouble. Yet, he had found a vocation of service. He ended his life as an itinerant light-bulb salesman.

Discipleship of Jesus is a lifelong journey of transformation that calls for perseverance and flexibility. Along the way, we encounter a succession of challenges, insights and setbacks as we negotiate our way through an ever-changing world and a Church in rapid transition. This road to an adult faith in Jesus demands that we put him, the source of compassion, love and peace at the very centre of all we say and do. Can we say ‘yes’ to those demands?