Gospel according to Luke (14:25-33)
GREAT CROWDS were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Looking at skyscrapers that dot the city’s skyline, we can imagine the profits the builders make for their mega-ventures. But such ventures are not without risks. A sudden economic crisis can leave a tower unfinished or without takers of condos and offices. Then there are cases of force majeure, extraordinary events or circumstances beyond the control of human beings, (e.g. hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wars, volcanic eruptions). These are also referred to as “acts of God.” But believers do not use “acts of God” as a merely archaic term. Believers hold that God intervenes in human affairs to impose justice and punish sinners. An ancient story of an unfinished project is that of the Tower of Babel. In their pride, human beings began to build a city with a tower with its top in the sky. The Lord confused their language and scattered them over all the earth (Gn 11:1-9). Remnants of the ziggurat or “house that raises high its head” in Babylon Jewish exiles would remind them of the story in their sacred writings.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of a venture that ends in disaster. A man began to build but did not have the resources to finish. To the loss of his capital was added the “loss of face”—so important among Near Eastern peoples. He became a laughingstock among his peers.
The story of the unfinished tower—and of the king who marches into battle—are told by Jesus to restrain the enthusiasm of those who wished to follow him. And who would not be eager? Jesus shows himself as one having exousia (power and authority) in his teaching and actions. He heals the sick, exercises control over winds and waves, raises the dead, and drives out demons. Aside from seeing him as a prophet, some even suspect that he might be the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus says that all these mighty acts are signs that the Kingdom of God is at work in their midst.
But there is another part of the Kingdom that is not at all easy and palatable. It involves separation from family, suffering, humiliation, and death. This is what is meant by carrying the cross after Jesus, by sharing the cup of his suffering. Will the would-be-disciple also accept this? If willing, he or she is invited to this hard but meritorious (and even joyful), adventure of following the Lord. By human goodwill and effort alone, renouncing of one’s self is impossible. But the Lord who calls people does not leave them to their own devices; he gives the necessary graces for the disciples to persevere.
The disciples who “build the house” will remember that “unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain Who build” (Ps 127:1). Yes, human intelligence, preparation, and resources are necessary to build the kingdom of God in this world. But more important than these are trust and confidence in the Lord. Through him, in him, and with him, nothing will be impossible.
Today, September 8, is the birthday of Mama Mary. In Christus Vivit, which is especially addressed to young people, Pope Francis points to this young woman of Nazareth as a model of discipleship. The Pope writes, “ln the heart of the Church, Mary shines forth. She is the supreme model for a youthful Church that seeks to follow Christ with enthusiasm and docility. While still very young, she accepted the message of the angel, yet she was not afraid to ask questions (cf. Lk 1:34). With open heart and soul, she replied, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord’ (Lk 1:38)” (CV no. 43).
“Hers Was the ‘yes’ of someone prepared to be committed, someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise… Things would get complicated, of course, but not in the same way as happens when cowardice paralyzes us because things are not clear or sure in advance. Mary did not take out an insurance policy! She took the risk, and for this reason she is strong, she is an ‘influencer,’ the ‘influencer’ of God. Her yes and her desire to serve were stronger than any doubts or difficulties” (CV no. 44).
– Fr. Gil A. Alinsangan, SSP