THEME: COSTLY DISCIPLESHIP
Today we hear Jesus, who has maintained that love is the greatest commandment, saying that his followers must hate their family members and even their own lives if they want to remain his disciples. It is one of the difficult sayings of Jesus that even the greatest biblical fundamentalist will not dare to take literally. The gospel was written to a persecuted group of disciples of Jesus. They were persecuted because of their faith. They were rejected. They were hated, and in most cases by unbelieving parents and family members. They were tempted daily to abandon the faith they have in Jesus in pursuit of a comfortable life and acceptance by their family members and the society at large.
The statement of Jesus was not an invitation to his disciples to hate them in return. He was inviting them to choose between discipleship and attachment to the worldly ways, which includes unholy influence from the family. Jesus invited his followers to make a choice between following him and following worldly ways. The church invites us today to make the same choice. Discipleship implies following Jesus and deciding against whatever contradicts his ways.
This demand of Jesus places a great responsibility on a disciple. Discipleship is costly. It is a serious issue. It involves being hated, rejected, persecuted, and sometimes it involves death. Discipleship involves sacrifice. It involves letting go of unholy attachments. It involves saying the truth and standing by it, even when it makes you unpopular
Jesus gave us an example of total love and sacrifice. He gave away everything for us. The disciples of Jesus and members of the early church took the unpopular path of discipleship. They followed Jesus even when it was risky to do that. Paul had a comfortable life as a Jew. He was a Hebrew of Hebrew parents, from the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, a Pharisee and blameless under the law (cf. Philippians 3:5-6). He was well accepted by the society of his time. When he was arrested and called by God, he had the option of not accepting the call. He made the sacrifice and took the path that brought him hardship, rejection, shipwreck, imprisonment and ultimately, death.
The letter to Philemon, which is the second reading of today, was written by Paul from the prison. He tells Philemon that he is in chains because of the gospel of Jesus whose disciple he is. He invites Philemon to forgive Onesimus, still for the sake of discipleship. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon. Onesimus had wronged his master. Philemon was a Christian and Paul addressed him at the beginning of the letter as a fellow worker. Paul reminds him that a part of the demands of discipleship implies forgiving Onesimus.
Sometimes discipleship can cost us to let go of the wrong someone has done and be ready to treat the person better. Philemon was to welcome Onesimus, no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother. Discipleship is really costly.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta gave away everything for the sake of Jesus present in the poor. She responded positively to the demands of the costly Christian discipleship.