Jesus’ responses to those who said they would follow him that we heard in today’s Gospel have sometimes made me uncomfortable. They can seem abrupt or off-putting. We usually think of Jesus speaking to people with compassion.
As I meditated on it, I realized that there must have been reasons for such responses.
Jesus may have been testing the seriousness of the desire of those men to follow him.
With his gift of intuition Jesus must have known that some of those who offered themselves lacked perseverance, or some of the other gifts necessary for being good disciples.
When I was a teenage boy, and first felt the call to ordination, those whom I asked for advice or direction would caution me that the life of a priest was not an easy life. They wanted me to be prepared for difficult times.
Jesus seems to have been speaking in much that same way to those three persons in today’s Gospel. He pointed to some of the reasons why life as a disciple might be difficult for anyone who said, “I will follow wherever you go.” (v.57)
Jesus put it in the barest, bluntest way that he could for that person. “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (v. 58)
When he said those words it may have seemed an exaggeration, but Jesus wanted that person to realize that life as one of his disciples would not be easy. (Though, I feel sure that the Disciples saw to it that Jesus had a place to sleep and eat when he needed it.)
As for the next two cases, I can only conjecture what Jesus had on his mind when he spoke to them. We don’t really know all of the circumstances. In both of these cases he was challenging the priorities of those people, and others like them. Whatever Jesus had in mind, he was testing their sincerity and the depth of their faith in the Gospel message.
What does this Gospel tell us today? I think it says to us; “Test your motivation and clarify your priorities, deepen your faith, and don’t try to make excuses!”
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