Are you a bit jarred by the Gospel for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time from Luke 14:25-33? If not, you should be! After all Jesus says, “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.” Jesus is speaking about the cost of discipleship and the price we must pay to follow Jesus faithfully. Ultimately, we must evaluate our lives and ask ourselves, what keeps us from true, faithful discipleship?

Do our relationships with others, such as with fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children or siblings cause us not to be faithful followers of Christ? All these relationships have important responsibilities attached to them, such as duty to support one’s family. We may have to do a job that may cause us to conflict with our faith. Someone who works in the medical profession can find themselves in a situation that involves issues of life, such as the unborn. A person may face a decision to materially support a procedure such as an abortion which will end the life of an unborn child. Another example may be someone who was elected to political office and they have legislation before them which again compromises their religious beliefs. Is success in the secular world worth betraying our moral values and religious beliefs?

If we can compromise our beliefs and values, then we have to ask ourselves another question: do we only hold to those values and beliefs when it is convenient and, when it is not, do we discard them for career, social and political expediency? What is needed by the disciple is God’s wisdom, so that we can carry out God’s will which always calls us to faithfulness to God’s commands. “For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For a corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.” (Wis. 9:13-18b) Our one concern is to carry out God’s commands which bring order and respect for God and on another. Without seeking God’s counsel and wisdom and only relying on our own knowledge leads to chaos in society and disrespect for God’s creation.

What also is needed for us to carry the cross of Jesus Christ? Wonder and awe is God’s great plan of salvation and how it has been fulfilled. Wonder and awe are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 90 (3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17) helps us to see our lives as a part of God’s great plan of salvation. We are not insignificant. We are called to bring this wonder and awe into our lives as disciples.

Jesus asks us to put our faith first, above fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, family and friends and even our careers. Interestingly, it is that experience of coming to hate one’s very life that brought about the writing of the lyrics to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” John Newton, the poet who wrote the lyrics, had an experience of coming to see the truth of his life. Newton began his career in the mid- 1700’s as a conscripted member of the British Navy. After his naval service came to an end, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade industry.

On one voyage, a violent storm came up and in fear he called out to God for mercy. That experience, however, did not end his slave trading; it would take seven years for him to come to hate his life and finally recognize that the cost of discipleship was that he would have to end this despicable career. Over the next several years, he studied theology and became a minister. He became an advocate to end the slave trade and the lyrics that would become the words to “Amazing Grace” were written to further that goal. The 2007 movie “Amazing Grace” tells the story of this journey from slave trader to disciple of Christ.

The Second Reading of St. Paul in his letter to Philemon (9:10, 12-17) is appealing in the very same way for the freedom of Onesimus, a slave in Philemon’s household. Paul wants Philemon to recognize that they are equals and brothers in Christ, not slave and owner. Paul wants Philemon to come to hate the choice he has made in his life to be an owner of slaves. He wants Philemon to free Onesimus, as a sign that Philemon himself has been freed by Christ from sin and from death. This act of discipleship will cost Philemon in his earthly life, but it will give him eternal life. What cost do we need to pay for the freedom of discipleship? What must we come to let go of in our lives, so that we can put God first and live out the love of Christ? That is faithful discipleship!