The Discouraging Leader

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Lk 14:25-33

In today’s Gospel, Jesus presents three discouraging conditions to follow him: (1) hate your father and mother, (2) renounce all your possessions, (3) take up one’s cross and follow him. These are suicidal conditions for any leader to place on one’s followers. These discouraging demands can be understood only in the context of the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem.

As I often mention, the pilgrimage of Jesus to Jerusalem begins from the time Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). As the journey progressed from Galilee through the villages and towns, it gathered more and more people, and Jesus was worried that those following him might have misunderstood the purpose of his journey. His conditions were meant to dissuade them by clarifying the purpose and hardships of this journey. He was worried they had taken hasty decisions without knowing the consequences of their choice to accompany him. The metaphors of going to war or building a tower indicate the gravity of the pursuit of the Kingdom of God in following Jesus.

The followers seem to have imagined the defeat of Herod and Pilate, the takeover of Jerusalem and the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom. Jesus, of course, knew that this was a different ball game. He knew from the Transfiguration that he would be killed in Jerusalem. It is in this context Jesus makes the three statements of dissuasion.

To say that one should hate father and mother, is, perhaps, an indication of how dangerous the journey would be. Jesus knew his own death was imminent. Did Jesus know there was a possibility of someone else losing his life? We cannot say with certainty. But he was definitely worried about it. It is possible that they might not return. When he was being arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was making sure that no one else should be arrested, and he told them to let his companions go if it was him they were looking for. He was worried about their safety.

The usage of the term “cross” might have been very ominous to the listeners. It had only one meaning. The cross was carried by those sentenced for crucifixion. As mentioned earlier, Jesus was worried that together with him, many others might be crucified. He was not telling them about any metaphorical cross. He was talking about a real cross, and he would be the one to take it first. They would have to follow him. Metaphorizing the cross as burdens of life has taken away from us the sense of the impending peril that Jesus was predicting to all of them. John would write in his Gospel that many followers left his company on the way. He mentions it because of the difficult teaching. Well, that teaching included offering the possibility of a crucifixion to those who followed him to Jerusalem.

Jesus also asks about renouncing all possessions before undertaking the journey. There are no metaphors here. He was talking about renouncing their possessions in reality, not about things that a person considers precious, but real land and property, because they were embarking on a journey that he was not sure they would ever return from. If people regretted later about the poverty and lack of resources on the way, then, there was no point of beginning this journey. We can easily remember the journey of Israel through the desert of Sinai. They regretted leaving Egypt because they missed the food and comfort of Egypt. Jesus was reminding them to renounce possessions, in a legal manner, in a sense, write a will leaving their possessions to those staying behind.

In other places in the Gospels, particularly in Luke, there is little reference to renunciation. It is always about sharing. Here, the renunciation is not for sharing, but leaving the properties behind because they might not be able to return to claim them. This is not because of the love or compassion for the poor. It is just renunciation of the riches, possible only to those who have found worth in pursuing the Kingdom of God.

There must be a concrete, practical understanding of the journey to Jerusalem, without the consideration of modern metaphorical meanings. The journey could well be taken metaphorically for our personal faith journeys, or that of our societies’. Societies of our times have evolved significantly in their lifestyles in comparison to the time of Jesus. Children who live with elderly parents are becoming fewer, especially in the context of large migrations happening between hemispheres. The elderly often have someone else other than their children to care for them by the end of their lives. Loving one’s parents as the most precious relationship on earth is not true in many cases now. I hate to say this, but this is our present reality. The number of parents who love their children more than anything else is also on the decline. More adjustments in family life would take place if the parents really cared for their children. I am not talking about maintaining abusive marriage relationships. I am talking about the silly reasons on which some divorces are initiated.

Crosses have their metaphorical meanings as well. We find more and more people stressed and worried in our times. The rates of depression and mental illnesses in societies are climbing due to the inability of the people to come to terms with the crosses they have to carry. Resilience in bearing pain…the pain threshold is pretty low. There is a need to learn to embrace the sacrifices we have to make in order to live a purposeful life.

The invitation of Jesus is to live for a sublime purpose. If only we have clarity regarding the purpose of life, we will be willing to sacrifice our precious relationships, our precious possessions, and embrace our crosses. The one who is not convinced of a sublime purpose, or who lives without a purpose, will not be able to forgo any present convenience for a future advantage. This question challenges me to the core: “What is the purpose for which I am willing to sacrifice everything I have?”