Readings: 2 Kings 4:8-11,14-16; Romans 6: 3-4,8-11; Matthew 10:27-42
Theme: The Cost of Discipleship
The main theme of today’s gospel reading is the cost of discipleship. As Jesus reminds his disciples, there is a price to be paid by all who wish to be his disciples – by those willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk: ‘Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’ (Mt 10:38). Any commitment that is real rather than notional is costly, involving sacrifices and self-less service of others. Take, for example, the commitment of parents to their children, or of doctors and nurses, who often put their lives on the line to serve others, as we say throughout the COVID pandemic.
Some people mistake involvement for commitment but they are not the same. The difference is illustrated by a humorous fable I heard many years ago. ‘One day a pig and a hen were walking down the road when the hen says to the pig: “I was thinking we should open a restaurant!” The pig replies: “Hm, maybe, what would we call it?” The hen responds: “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?” The pig thinks for a moment and says: “No thank you. That would mean I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”
The noted German Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose opposition to the Nazi regime cost him his life, wrote a famous book in 1937 entitled, The Cost of Discipleship. In it he spells out what it means to be a follower of Christ. He distinguishes between ‘cheap grace’ and ‘costly grace’. Cheap grace is ‘grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate’. Costly grace ‘is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it one will go and sell all one has. It is costly because it costs one’s life, and it is grace because it gives one the only true life….Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son’. Bonhoeffer’s words are as relevant today as when he wrote them.
There is no avoiding the cross if we really wish to be true followers of Him who gave his life for us. ‘If a person serves me, that person must follow me; wherever I am, my servant will be there too’ (Jn 12:26). The cross is an invitation to become like Jesus, who is our true Life. The beautiful song ‘The Rose’ includes the striking line: ‘It’s the one afraid of dying who never learns to live.’ These words echo the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: ‘Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it’ (Mt 10:39). This is the heart of the paschal mystery in which we are all called to participate. As St Paul reminds us in our second reading today, ‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus, we joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life’ (Rom 6:3-4). We may not all be called to be martyrs, but we are all called to die to self, if we wish to follow Christ and share in his new life. The spirituality of ‘cheap grace, grace without the cross’, much in vogue today, is an illusion.
Some time ago, I was listening to a BBC programme on old age and heard an Asian woman of 82 responding to the question: what were the most important ingredients for a happy life? Two things she said struck me: ‘Let go of being needful of the approval of others’ and ‘Don’t be afraid of death. If you’re afraid of death you will never live.’ Fear of death, fear of the cost of discipleship can paralyse us and prevent us experiencing the life of loving self-surrender to which Christ calls us. The struggle to overcome that fear begins the very moment we decide to commit our lives to Jesus Christ and to let him be our Master. There may be ties that bind us and that we need to break – things we normally consider good, such as family ties: ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me’ (Mt 10:37). Even these ties may sometimes stifle our freedom to be fully committed to Christ.
The effort to let go of the ties that bind us and to give ourselves totally to the Lord is a life-long process which brings growth and freedom and life, but not without a daily struggle. However, God’s Spirit will be there for us always – supplying guidance and strength. In following Jesus we are set free; in dying to self we are reborn; and, if we persevere in the struggle, we can rest assured that we will be channels of Christ’s ‘costly’ life-giving grace to others, not purveyors of ‘cheap grace’. I will end with a short poem on discipleship by Steve Page, entitled Counting the Cost.
Have I loved enough,
Have I denied myself?
Have I ducked the responsibility
That comes with so much grace?
Is mine a cost worth counting?
Is mine a cross worth lifting?
Have I reduced my discipleship
To a too comfortable pace?
Lord, I’m tired of this highway
With its crowded lanes and tolls to pay.
Let me live your love without speed limits
Along your narrow way
May the good Lord continually grant us the grace to remain true and faithful missionary-disciples so as not to lose focus of Him nor prize our self-interest above our Christian calling. Amen
Michael McCabe SMA
To listen to an alternative Homily for this Sunday, from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.