‘Anyone who does not carry his cross cannot be my disciple’
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
In this reading for the 3rd/4th September, Jesus’ stark language should not be taken literally but should encourage us to prefer nothing and nobody to following Him. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
25 Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. 26 ‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
28 ‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, 30 “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” 31 Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? 32 If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. 33 So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’
Other readings: Wisdom 9:13-18 Psalm 89 (90) Philemon 9-10,12-17
The start of this gospel reading should remind us that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Luke tells us that many people were willing to follow him. His journey from Galilee to Jerusalem began in chapter 9. It is a journey to face the cross and is filled with teaching for those who are willing to take up their crosses as disciples of Jesus.
Once again Jesus uses the stark language of the prophets. To hate one’s closest relatives should not be interpreted literally, but in the sense of preferring nothing and nobody to following Jesus.
The second section of the gospel concerns prudence. Jesus tells two short parables, about the man building the tower, and another about a king going to war. Discipleship involves both the heart and the mind. We need to count the cost of discipleship. There is an apparent contradiction here for the passage ends with another radical statement of Jesus: ‘None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’ Each person must calculate the cost and give what God inspires through heart and mind. God does not demand what is impossible for a person to give. Detachment is the key.
The first reading praises the gift of Wisdom, which comes from God. Jesus is this true Wisdom, who guides, inspires and challenges us on the road to the fulness of life.
Do I manage to put God above all else in my life?
Do I use my intelligence to make decisions about discipleship?
Let us pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide our detachment to generosity.
Let us pray for courage in following Jesus to Jerusalem, to the cross and to new life.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy