23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 4 September 2022

All along the way, on his long journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had arguments with the scribes and the pharisees. Again and again he pointed out that their learning and careful reasoning is worthless if they do not recognise the kingdom of God when it comes among them. The common people, the great crowds, are better at recognising this, unlearned though they be.

But now Jesus turns to warn them, and to give them a fairly brutal lesson in realism, in what the kingdom of God is going to require. They are following Jesus to Jerusalem in the hope that he is going to win a war on behalf of their race, their laws, their nation, its structures of family, blood and clan. But Jesus tells them that if they follow him, they must hate their own family. This stark way of speaking, characteristic of Jesus’s language and times, tells the crowds that, when the time comes to choose, we must put God and his Christ before everything we hold dear, even the very things we expect God and Jesus to preserve.

And so Jesus advises us all to think over the cost of discipleship. If the crowds were actually going to war, the only intelligent thing to do would be to assess the odds of winning before risking everything. Don’t start building a tower until you know you can get it finished, or you’ll only deserve mockery! So it is good to consider what the task really is, and what price we are prepared to pay.

Because Jesus isn’t going to Jerusalem to fight the Romans. He is going there to defeat sin and death, evil itself. And he will not do this with a sword, but with the cross. He, who is the Lord of the universe, is going to empty himself, humble himself, even to death, death on a cross. He will place nothing above the love of his Father, above his love for his Father’s will.

And he calls each of us, his disciples, to follow him. That is what taking up our cross really means. It means truly putting God first. There are many things we encounter in our lives that are good. They are to be valued, even treasured. But they can never stand in the place of God for us. Because we know the realities of this world first, it is easy for us sinners to put these created realities, including other people who are so precious, especially those nearest to us, first. But if we are to follow the road to God through Christ, we must put him before father, mother, and all else that is of value to us.

But this isn’t harshness from God. Because Jesus’s journey doesn’t end in Jerusalem. The other side of the cross lies the Resurrection. God only asks us to put him above these other things that he might give them back to us, made perfect and glorious – as we ourselves shall be if we only take up our cross and follow.

Fr Chris Denham

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