“The Goal of Being Christ’s Disciple”
September 4, 2016: The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 18)
Deut. 30: 15 – 20/ Psalm 139: 1-6; 13-18/ Philemon 4 – 16/ Luke 14: 26 – 33
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
God is good! God is love! God’s nature is love and He is good. What He does is always out of His goodness and His nature and out of His being naturally is love. I need to establish this because sometimes we misunderstand when terminologies are used to describe who our God is. The Bible says that God is a jealous God. It may sound negative because we would relate our nature with His. Our being jealous is negative because when humans are jealous, in many cases, it is out of selfishness. When we are jealous, it is because we feel we are left out or we are missing out on something. We want it for ourselves instead of another getting it. God’s being jealous is a righteous jealousy. He is jealous because He wants the best for us. The reason we are not getting the best is because we are not following what He commands us to do.
The same goes for anger. We, Christians, justify anger. I am not saying that it is all wrong. The Bible says you can be angry, but sin not. In the many times that you have been angry, how can you tell that is righteous anger like God’s anger? Many times, parents are angry with their children is because their peace is disturbed or bothered. Sometimes, it is not because parents want them to be set right, but because they are upset and disappointed that they don’t see the right in their children and they see the wrong and the weakness. God is good! God is a jealous God and it is a good jealousy because it is for our sake, not for His sake.
In the gospel in Luke 14, Jesus said, “Unless you hate your own brother, your sister, your family and even yourself, you cannot be My disciple.” The Greek word of hate means a dislike comparing it to our love for Jesus. If we love others more than Him, then, we cannot be His disciples. We are not worthy of Him. The context is value. If we value anything or anyone more than Him, then, we are not worthy of Him. We cannot be His disciples. If we do not take up our crosses and follow Him, then, we cannot be His disciple.
The value system is what Jesus it talking about in the gospel. The word ‘hate’ means value less or love less. It is not necessary that we not love at all to a point of disowning, but to just love less in comparison to our love for Jesus. Anything else must come far second. A song sang by Basil Valdez has these lyrics, “Bakit labing kitang mahal, pangalawa sa Maykapal.” Anything else must come far second, which makes ourselves probably at most, third.
Jesus is saying that nothing must come before Him. He emphasized that He must be number one or nothing at all. One must be number one in His life or one can’t be Christ’s disciple. It is a value system. What do we prioritize? What we value is what we prioritize. What we value is what we pay attention to. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, there will your thoughts be, and there will your efforts be.” Think of a teenager in love. They would be in class looking at the professor, but what are they really thinking about? What we value is what we think about and put our efforts into obtaining.
One time, our family was getting ready to leave for an activity. We were late, running under pressure and I was worked up and I was screaming all over telling my children that it is time to go. Then, I saw one of my children, in bed, on the phone doing something. Something important had to be done, but other priorities are being attended to. We have to set our priorities right.
I am reminded of Uriah, a victim of one of David’s schemes. David summoned him from the battle and tried to trick him into going home to his wife, which Uriah didn’t do saying, “Why would I do that? Why would I prioritize going home to my wife over what my sword brothers, my fellow soldiers are going through right now?” This is value system. David, at one time, also asked himself, “How could I live in a house of cedar when the house of God lies desolate?” Which is more important, the things of God or our personal things? What do we value and what do we put our efforts and our hearts into? In understanding priorities, we inevitably have to make sacrifices. We put ourselves less and we give God our all. We let other things take a back seat to God.
There is a contradiction to the people that Jesus talked to in Luke 9. Jesus told one of them, “Follow Me,” and he said, “Lord, let me first say goodbye to those at home…” It was a contradiction because you say, “Lord,” then you say, “me first.” If you say, “Lord,” then He is first. If you say, “Me first,” then you say that you are lord. You cannot be a disciple if this is what you say or this is your attitude.
Many in the Church are mediocre Christians because for them other things take precedence over the things of God. They would give excuses and justifications as to why they cannot give their one hundred percent to God because they have to take care of something else. We can offer other excuses, but the bottom line is that God sees our heart. In fact, whenever we say that, we must be careful and we must understand when we say that God sees our heart because God will say, “Amen, I see your heart.” What is your heart revealing? You may make other people believe, but God sees through all of the things you go through.
Jesus says that we need to take up our crosses and follow Him. Cross is a symbol of a denial of self to follow Jesus. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” It is the giving up of something; a giving up of a life. Jesus humbled Himself to a point of death. Jesus gave up the glory, the joy, the heavenly bliss of being seated at the right hand of the Father. He left this, took upon flesh and died for us. He set an example for us of how we should live. Cross always involves a giving up of something, of our own rights. Forgiveness is a giving a right to exact payment or punishment. Humility is a virtue and it is the cross that says, “My love for my brother is more important than my argument or reasoning.” Relationship is more important even if we lose in an argument.
The context of the message is: Jesus is over self and all other things that we value and go out after. As point number one, Jesus must have no rival in our lives and in our hearts. Defining an idol, it is anything other than God that takes first place in our hearts and in our lives. We can say that we are not guilty of idolatry because we don’t have a wooden figure or statue at home. This was just the Old Testament symbols of what really takes place in our hearts. What can be idols? Careers can be idols if they come number one before God in our lives. Our romantic object can also be an idol if they take first place in our hearts. Money, power, prestige or studies can also be number one, not Jesus.
The portion of the gospel today has been interpreted wrongly by some Christians. They wrongly justify what Jesus is saying that if we cannot commit to a certain thing, then, we don’t do it at all or just go half-way. This is the thinking of some when having few children; and when they justify and count the cost, this is not the context of what Jesus is saying. What He is pointing out is, “You CANNOT be My disciple if you do not fulfill My requirement.” Jesus is not giving us an option for compromise, for defeat or for being lukewarm or being a mediocre. He is laying out what the requirement is: it is one hundred percent of our hearts totally to Him. If not, then, we cannot be Jesus’ disciple. In our selfishness, we ask, “How far can we go in our indulgence and still be a disciple?” This is the opposite of what Jesus is saying because self has to die.
During my youth days, it has been asked in one of the youth camps, “I am dating someone. How far can we physically go and still be disciples of Jesus?” The answer to this question was, “This is not what you ask. You stand as far back from this as you can because of your love for Jesus.” Proverbs says, “You don’t take fire in your bosom, and not expect to be burned.” One wouldn’t be thinking of this question if one’s treasure is in God because this is where his heart will be also. In essence, the question revealed what the heart was and Jesus was not number one.
How much beer can we drink? How many cigarettes a day can we smoke and still be considered righteous and Christian? How much makeup can we put on and still be a Christian? Some religions have all these rules and God is not a God of Don’ts. God is not a killjoy and He doesn’t want us bereft of things that we need or are good for us. Even our wants, He gives to us, but God wants us to set our priorities right because we will find the fullness of life and then, the other side benefits will be added to us.
God is not offering an option for compromise, but He is giving us a heads-up of what giving our one hundred percent means. We must be ready and be willing to pay the price. It is giving us information of what we should be willing to pay for an all-out commitment to Him. It is a narrow road. It involves the cross. It involves a dying to self. Jesus said that we will be persecuted and we will go through many tribulations, but it will all be worth it because we will find life that is much, much better than what we have been asking for and praying for. Jesus said, “No one, having put their hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Point number two: there is no retreat when it comes to following Jesus. If we have said to Him, “Yes, I will follow you,” there is no turning back from this. I am thankful, like Paul in expressing his letter to Philemon, for many of our church members who give of themselves, who volunteers, who go out on missions, and who give of their time and efforts and sacrifice patience, family time and other things. I am happy because they are finding the true meaning of the God-kind of life. When we give of ourselves, we become useful in God’s kingdom.
The name of the slave, Onesimus, who is mentioned in Philemon, means useful. He is the slave who found freedom in his usefulness in the kingdom of God. We are encouraged to do the same. We have been in bondage to many things. We can find our freedom and our being useful in the kingdom of God. Jesus, in giving us that wise counsel, the encouragement, made that command to follow Him and to choose life. Deuteronomy 30 says to choose life. It is not that God is making life miserable for us, but actually He wants the fullness of life for us because the other choice is death. It is something that is opposite God’s will.
The lessons are warning us against putting God second. It is warning us against idolatry. Idolatry is strongly condemned in the Bible. Idolatry is simply putting God second to anyone or to anything. Even Moses said that when the people reach the Promised Land and they develop their farms and they grow and they harvest a lot and have vineyards, they are not to forget God. These can be idols if they take the place of God in their hearts.
God's will is that we have abundant life. When Solomon prayed, he asked for wisdom and ability to be useful in God’s wisdom. God granted this plus other things that he did not ask for. It is law in God’s kingdom that he who wishes to save his life or to have the kind of life that he wants, he actually loses it and the kind of life that God wants him to have. Whoever loses one’s idea of what life should be, then, he gains the God-kind of life, the abundant life that God wills, which is the Zoe life.
God wants us to have good things and He won’t probably grant to us things that would take our hearts away from Him. He doesn’t want us to have without, but in Matthew it says to seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things shall be added unto us. It is only AFTER we have sought the kingdom of God that we find the true joy and the fulfillment. In making God number in our hearts, then, we will find true life. Then, we will really live. Then, we will find the joy and the fulfillment that God wants us to have and the fullness of it because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.