The stakes of discipleship

| June 6, 2018 | 0 Comments
Jesus carrying cross. Discipleship challenge.


The Jesus of the Gospels is direct and challenging, even as the words he says are full of truth and light and grace. He is the Prince of Peace, but it is a hard peace, the price of which is too much for many — total surrender to the will of God, a will that includes the forgiveness of enemies, genuine love of the poor and a resolutely humble heart.

The Lord has come to do battle with the enemy, the enemy that led our first parents astray so many years ago in the Garden of Eden, the very garden about which we hear in the first reading for June 10. The words of the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from evil,” express not just the existential reality of evil in the world, but evil at its most intense and hate-filled — the diabolical and demonic. The exorcisms in the Gospels describe not the ancient world’s embarrassing misdiagnosis of mental illness, but the revealed fact that Christ has come to “bind the strong man,” that is, Satan and his legion, and to rob this dreadful enemy of his spoils — the souls and destinies of men and women so very precious to the Father.

But the Lord has also come to challenge those conventions and connections that we hold dear in our lives, even those conventions and connections that are by their nature good and necessary. The Lord’s troubling response to the loving concern of his mother and his brethren — all of whom have come to simply make sure he is alright despite the jeers and accusations of the crowd — is startling, and not unlike the equally troubling tone of those other words spoken by the Lord to his mother in the Gospel of John: “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” Hardly the words one would expect from a doting son, let alone the Son of God.

But Christ’s words, “Who is my mother and my brother?” are, of course, not meant to hurt his mother. They are for the sake of the crowd and for the disciples who, over the centuries, would pause at the proclamation of this scene and wonder why the Lord could not simply have gone out to say hello to his mom. It seems to me that the answer lies in the radical call given to all Christians at their baptism. We now belong to the Lord and to the family that is the Church. Our friendships and familial bonds, so deep and real and good, must always take a back seat to discipleship. This is hard, and it’s not always clear how it is best lived in the awkwardness of life and the messiness of our world and our families. We know that often times, praise God, there is no contradiction between following the Lord and being a good brother or sister or son or daughter. But, at times, conflict between obligations exists, and when faced with these challenges, the Lord and the narrow way must come first.

But lest anyone get the wrong idea, this narrow way does not always just mean turning down invitations to family get-togethers or weddings that are problematic. It can also mean advocating for forgiveness when those we love seek vengeance. It can also mean lending a helping hand to the poor and weak when others try to convince us that “they” have made their own bed, and now it’s time they lie in it. And it can also mean excusing oneself early from a Saturday night party with friends and family because you know that you need to give God your best on Sunday morning.

The Lord is a loving savior, but he is also deadly serious about the stakes involved in discipleship, stakes that can demand difficult decisions in our life and a willingness to put discipleship before everything else. It is hard. But with the Blessed Mother’s help, the woman who heard the word of God and believed, we, too, can crush the head of the serpent.

Father Erickson is the director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and pastor of Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul.

Sunday, June 10
Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures