Large crowds were travelling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, ‘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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’
It is not unusual for us to come across these words: whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. But, what do they mean to us? We know that Jesus did carry a cross. But, is he really asking us to face that ignominious walk and tortuous death? Is Jesus really asking us to make that level of sacrifice in order that we might be considered worthy of true discipleship? The quick answer to this is, of course, yes! But … it is more about attitude and faithful commitment than the necessity of shame and pain.
There are many ways in which we can join Jesus in carrying our own crosses. Simply proclaiming our faith in Jesus Christ can put us in a place where we are persecuted and ridiculed. Our public declaration of faith can distance us from those we hold dear, even: father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters. Jesus speaks of the need for his disciples to hate these people, these people whom we should feel called to love and cherish. However, we need to understand the word translated as ‘hate’ before we jump to any conclusions in this matter.
In our 21st century world, the word ‘hate’ has taken on a level of meaning that was not meant in the original gospel narrative. When Jesus speaks of ‘hate’ he means that we are called to love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters less than we love him. The word ‘hate’ in the gospel narrative is about comparison and not about an extreme of negative emotion.
Of course, if we love those who see themselves as being our nearest and dearest ‘less’ than we love God, we do run the risk of making that ignominious walk, and possibly facing the pain of a tortuous separation. But, that is what faithful discipleship may entail. We may be called to face the rejection and the ridicule of those who feel they have a right to control the faith we espouse and the way in which we choose to live out our daily lives.
Let us pray that we might be given the strength to place God before all else in our lives. Let us pray that we might be given the courage to take up that cross, that symbol of public disgrace and pain. Let us pray that we might walk with Christ in the face of this world’s obsession with self-interest and secular glory as faithful and loyal disciples.