While He walked the earth, Jesus always spoke in language and images which the people of His day could understand. Most of the time that meant using examples from the world of farming. In first century Palestine, most people would have worked as farmers at one time or another or otherwise would have kept at least a small garden to provide them with fresh food. Describing the Kingdom of God, then, using images of seeds, harvest and growing seasons would make sense to most people back then.
However, in our day, we are mostly removed from the world of agriculture. For the majority of us, the closest we get to the farm is our weekly trip to the grocery store. We may be able to understand what Jesus means when He uses such examples, but they are not part of our everyday lives in the twenty-first century.
In today’s gospel, however, Jesus uses an example which all of us can understand even over two thousand years later. It is the image of making a major purchase or undertaking a major project. As Jesus puts it, “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?” None of us may be planning to build a tower, but we have at one time or another made a major purchase or have undertaken a major project in our homes. There are three questions we need to ask ourselves before we begin: What will it cost? Can we afford it? and Will it be worth it?
These questions are important to ask not only for managing our household budgets but also for our walk of faith. There is a cost to following Jesus. It is not easy and requires sacrifice. As we walk this life alongside Him we must ask ourselves these questions along the way.
First of all, what will it cost to follow Jesus? Usually when we make a major purchase such as an automobile or kitchen appliance, the cost that the store advertises and the actual cost vary widely. The store will often display a lower price to draw us in and then hit us with all kinds of hidden fees once we are committed. However, it is very different with Jesus. He tells us upfront that following Him is difficult and He puts it in very blunt language - “You must hate your mother, your father and your own life.” “You must pick up your cross daily and follow me” “You must renounce all your possessions”. Whenever we read such bold words from Jesus we have to understand that He is exaggerating to make a point. Nonetheless He means what He says.
What is the cost of following Jesus? It is rejection. When we start living the gospel seriously, we will experience ridicule. People will talk about us behind our backs. Many people we thought were our friends will stop calling us. And even our family members will start distancing themselves from us. Why? Because we do not join in with their gossip, we have no interest in whatever foolish television shows they are following and we defend the Church when it is being criticized unfairly. All this makes us strange and unusual to most people who are steeped in this world’s crazy values. If Jesus says to us, “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” it is because He is preparing us for the rejection we will face once we decide to live for Him.
Secondly, we must ask ourselves, can we afford it? Can we afford to face rejection for Jesus? It is difficult and painful to have the people we love turn their backs on us. However, when we decide to follow Jesus we do not do so alone. We become part of a community of believers who are ready to embrace us with their love and friendship. The decision to follow Jesus is one we make alone, but as soon as we do, we find that we are not traveling alone. Some of the most beautiful friendships we will make are with others who share our faith in the Risen Lord. They are friends who will not judge us, who will understand the struggles we face in living the good news and who will be by our side in good times and bad times. We can afford the cost because Jesus will replace whatever friends we do lose with even better friends, ones who share our values and who can give us real support.
Thirdly, we must ask ourselves if it is worth it. Is it worth it to face rejection, to give up old habits and to change our lives to follow Jesus? That is a question each of us must ask of ourselves. It is a question which each of us will have to answer in the silence of our hearts. Many will decide that the cost of following Jesus is too high. It is just too easy to follow the way of the world. On the other hand, many have and do say “yes” daily. Why? Because they have discovered that nothing this world can offer compares to having a personal relationship with Jesus. Like any good friendship, loving another person makes any sacrifices it may entail worthwhile. In just the same way, loving Jesus, being by His side, knowing the consolation of His presence in our lives makes rejection from our family members, ridicule from our friends and the sacrificing of pleasures worthwhile. Just as His closest apostles and disciples experienced, being with Jesus makes all the difference. There is nothing the world can offer that will compare with it.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem. It is there that He will do the Father’s will and offer Himself up to death for the salvation of the world. There is a vast crowd following Him. However, He knows that once they get to Jerusalem the crowd will get smaller as the authorities begin to persecute Him. It will get smaller still when Jesus is arrested and finally put to death. Of the vast crowd which followed Him to Jerusalem, only three were left at the foot of the cross. For this reason, Jesus wanted to make it clear to them what it would cost to follow Him. Jesus turns to us today with the same questions - Do you know the cost of following me, can you afford it and is it worth it to you? These are questions we must ask ourselves everyday without losing sight of the fact that Jesus will be with us through it all and that He will give us whatever we need to stay faithful to Him until the end.