The last several weeks have drawn our focus to the kingdom as Jesus tells a series of parables as he travels from Galilee to the temple in Jerusalem, where his mission is well-known. Jesus warned his disciples about what to expect, though they find it very challenging to understand.
Jesus warned us to be careful in walking through the narrow gate and avoid the tendency to try and push our way through the broad gate, as we strive for eternal life. Using the familiar image of a wedding banquet, Jesus challenged us to be humble and prudent in selecting our seats at a wedding banquet, careful not to presume a place of honor to which we are not entitled.
Jesus also warns against hubris and a sense of self-entitlement. There is a necessary sense of discomfort and the need to know one’s place before God and before other members of the community that is essential to discipleship and the path to eternal life.
In continuing the passages from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples in the Readings for this Sunday that if they want to follow him, they need to become comfortable in their discomfort; that life is not necessarily going to be easy.
In reflecting on this Gospel passage St. Augustine notes that Jesus tells us to love our enemies and yet hate our family members. He wonders what the Lord is asking of us.
In both cases, Jesus shocks us into the need to move outside of our comfort zones. Loving our enemies stretches us and makes us better people. We hate those – especially those who are close to us – who have a hold on us that might indeed keep us from following Jesus to the fullest extent.
As a college seminarian, I encountered a man in a healthcare facility who was at the final stages of his life. He was very interested in sharing much about himself and eventually he told of when he was a young man, he wanted to become a priest but that his parents, especially his mother, had forbade him to do so and even threatened to sever their relationship. He lived his life with a sense of regret that he didn’t have the strength and courage to follow the Lord’s call and run the risk of losing his family. Instead, he lived his life admitting that he carried the guilt of resenting his mother instead of ever genuinely loving her.
Jesus tells his disciples that they must carry their own crosses. It is one of those images that the disciples would not have understood, so it must have left them a bit perplexed. It will not be until Jesus carries his Cross that his disciples could foresee what it meant to carry their own.
As Jesus had told us to take the back roads and enter through the narrow gate, and then to take the back seat at the banquet, he now reminds us that we need to carefully prepare for the struggle that is to come.
Jesus carried his Cross through the bustling markets and narrow streets of Jerusalem. And today, as followers of Jesus, we must be willing to boldly and proudly carry our cross throughout the world. Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.