Spirituality for Today – June 2013 – Volume 17, Issue 11

Be Sure To Finish Strong On The Journey Of Following Jesus

Rev. Msgr.Frank Wissel

We know that large crowds were coming to Jesus. The movement he started with a dozen men was swelling with converts.

A photo of a hiker silhouetted against a sunrise

How pleased the disciples must have been. They had risked all to be with Jesus when there were few who had heard of him. Now their investment must have seemed like a gold mine. They had gotten in on this kingdom business at the ground floor. The kingdom movement was a mustard seed then. It was a full grown tree now.

How confident and successful they appeared, surrounded by popular appeal and growing numbers.

It seemed that the sky was the limit now until Jesus opened his mouth and said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Have you ever seen that saying of Jesus on the kitchen wall?

Well, as you might imagine, that statement let the air out their balloon.

What a career-ending sound bite that would make on the evening news. "Hate your parents, family, siblings!" Jesus, surely we misunderstood you. You are the one who taught us to love even our enemies, much less our own family.

You are the one who held and blessed all children as images of the kingdom of God. Why are you the making the conditions of discipleship so hard? Why make us choose between you and our families? Couldn't Christianity be more successful and popular if you eased up on us all? Are you sure you know what you are doing, Jesus?

There were the questions, spoken and unspoken, by the disciples that day.

Jesus, of course, knew what he was doing. But he wanted to make sure those following him knew what they were doing, too. What do we make of this hard saying of Jesus? Just this: He wanted disciples to finish strong in the journey of following him. How do we finish strong?

You finish strong if you begin honestly. Today, leaders and politicians have staff members who measure every word, examine it for political correctness, and spin the truth to the purposes of their employer.

The fatal flaw to be avoided is the embarrassment of offending anyone. Jesus had no such desire to "spin" the truth.

He did not want to offend. But he did intend to shock his hearers into a higher of commitment.

Jewish teachers of the first century often used overstatement and exaggeration with their disciples.

Jesus wants to alert would-be followers that the hill is steep in places that they will be asked to climb.

He would be doing them no favor to soft-sell the pressing need of absolute commitment to the kingdom of God.

If someone begins the journey under the illusion of ease, that one is headed for certain disappointment. Disillusion is always the child of illusion.

Jesus knew that the crowd surrounding him was not ready for the journey that awaited them as his followers. It is relatively easy to confess loyalty to Christ when one is surrounded by a multitude that does the same.

It is quite another matter when one stands alone, much less when one must stand in the face of a multitude who are antagonistic with the cause of Christ.

Christ came to call men and women to bear a cross. Jesus knows if he does not prepare his followers for the harsh times that may come upon them, they will wilt under the pressure and quit too soon. There is no shame to fall in an attempt of a great task. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a person, he calls him to come and die."

The saying about hating family is shocking, but not as shocking as it sounds to our ears.

In the first century, "To hate," is such a comparative statement meaning "to love less than." Another statement of Jesus along these lines, "If you love your family more than me, you cannot be my disciple."

Is Jesus advocating a renunciation of all family loyalties? No. In a way, this hard statement is the supreme compliment to family ties. Jesus selected the family because it is the most honored of values.

But even this highest and noblest of relationships must pale in comparison to the love and loyalty to God.

Will there be frequent conflict between these loyalties? Probably not; especially given the witness of the rest of scripture on the value of family.

But if a decision had to be made between God and family, or someone is going to be the first love of your life, Jesus is bold to say, "Choose God."

Something, or someone, is going to be the first love of your life. If we were followers of Jesus, as he followed God, he must be first loved more than our money, more than our ambitions, more than our sense of survival, more than our family.

How many of us never excelled in an endeavor because we could not come to the point of commitment? How crucial such devotion is to the journey of faith.

Jesus was a finisher. At his death he cried, "It is finished." He did not quit. And he calls us to follow in his steps. It is not always an easy climb, but it is the only peak worth giving your life.

It is not always a popular journey, but you will never be totally alone either. Christ will be there. His presence will enable you to finish strong.