20th Sunday: The Cost of Discipleship

Today’s readings are difficult, very difficult.  They are difficult because they present the cost of discipleship.  We begin with the plight of Jeremiah who was persecuted because he proclaimed the Truth of God.  Horrible things happened to Jeremiah.  But he would not deny God and His message. It was the cost of discipleship.

The Second Reading then reminds these second and third generation Christians to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus and persevere in running the race set before them.  Jesus embraced the cross, endured the opposition of sinners.  The reading also scolds these Christians who were complaining that Christianity was too demanding.  It reminds them that they have not yet had to shed their blood.  Perhaps they would have to.  There is no limit to the cost discipleship imposes on us.

And finally we come to that most difficult Gospel. It starts off wonderfully, as the Lord says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” But then the Lord proclaims what the fire of His Love will bring: I have come to establish division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three . . . and so forth.

Jesus tells his disciples, and tells us that there will be a cost of discipleship.  This is not what most people, including me, want to hear.  We don’t want to hear that choosing Christ will put our lives at odds with some around us that we will be made fun of and persecuted.  We want our religion to be easy.  We don’t want to have to pay a price for living our faith.  But at times, we have to. 

Dietrick Bonhoeffer, a dedicated Christian and opponent of the Nazis said, ”cheap religion is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap religion is a religion without discipleship, a religion without the cross, a religion without Jesus Christ.” He went on to say, “cheap religion contains no demand for discipleship.” 

He showed the depth of his discipleship when he left the safety of America to return to Germany in 1939.  He was constantly harassed by the Nazi authorities until he was arrested in 1943 and later condemned to death in April 1945.  He was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard where he was hanged.

He wrote shortly before his death, “In contrast to cheap religion, true religion confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus.  It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels one to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him.” 

In the beginning of today’s Gospel Jesus says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” The fire of God’s love; that is what we are about.  If we are truly going to be His disciples, then we will willingly join the Lord in setting the world on fire with His love.  And with God’s help and strength we will do this no matter what personal cost this entails; for the cost of discipleship is temporary, but the Treasure of God’s Love is forever.

Fr. Tom