The 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18), Year C. September 2, 2022
Rev. Misa Furumoto
I sent my loving father to heaven last Tuesday. He was 88 years old; he had a wonderful life on earth as an Anglican priest and later bishop of Kobe diocese, and I believe he had lived long enough to return to God. And yet, how sad and painful it was to say good-bye to him. He was receiving care at a nursing home in Mie prefecture, and we could have a small family funeral there. Because there were a few Covid infected persons in the home, we could not invite anyone from outside beside us. Just me, my mother, my sister, my husband and our two children. That was all. It was a very, very small funeral for a former bishop, but we were happy about it. If there were no Covid crisis like now, his funeral must have been held at the cathedral of Kobe, becoming very big with hundreds of attendees. Maybe that was the proper way of doing it, but for us, this cozy, warm funeral not for a bishop but for “Dad” and “Grandpa” was such a nice gift from God. Surrounded just by loving family members, he departed for heaven. We all shed tears and hugged one another. It was tough but we were sure that we could get over this sorrow because we are together and love one another to the end of our days.
Now, how can Jesus give me who is soaking up love of family such harsh words this morning? “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, cannot be my disciple.” Well then, no thank you, I don’t need to be your disciple, I almost want to say so. Jesus said these words, but he must have wanted to tell us some important message which is hidden between the lines.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. His disciples and a large crowd were desperately following him. He raised a child from the dead, made a blind man see, cast out demons, and fed more than 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus, who performed one miracle after another, was like a superhero in the eyes of people. His words had power and authority beyond those of human beings. With that authority, He preached the words to people like they never heard from the scribes and Pharisees.
People who met this Jesus would say, “How wonderful he is, yes, I want to be his disciple too.” And, “If I follow him, I will surely be saved.” They must have thought like that. With their hearts filled with expectation, they followed Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Then, Jesus suddenly turned around and said to the crowd. “If anyone does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple! No one can be my disciple unless he takes up his own cross and follows me!” People must have been stunned by these fierce words. Did Jesus not want people to be his followers? Otherwise, who in the world can pass this discipleship audition? Nobody. It may be even easier to be elected as Pope.
Jesus then tells two mysterious parables. One is a man who begins to build a tower without calculating whether he has enough money to pay for it, and the other is a king who fights without thinking against an enemy that has twice as many soldiers as he has. What do these parables imply? Apparently, both are referring to people who start things without thinking about the consequences and only according to their feelings at the time. Those stories speak of the foolishness of those who start something without being prepared for it and then give up in the middle.
Most of the people who had applied to be Jesus’ disciples were superficially attracted to him, without knowing what was about to happen in Jerusalem and what would be required of them in the future as his disciples. They were filled with the only hope that they will be saved and given eternal lives easily and instantly. Jesus knew their hearts and tried to confirm that they were really ready to follow Him.
The path Jesus was on was the road to the cross. Of course, people then didn’t know what it meant. The cross meant the fact that the sinless Son of God, Jesus offered Himself to save us. It was the ultimate act of love. But that love was to involve so much pain and suffering. “Are you ready for this?” Jesus is asking. The word “love” sounds just so very sweet, gentle, and beautiful to our ears; however, true love, gratuitous love called Agape, Love of God accompanies a pain. It is easy to understand if you think of a candle. A flame of a candle, especially at night in the dark is unutterably beautiful. Its beauty can never be replaced by our artificial lights. It is warm and bright; it lightens up not only the space but also your heart. It always gives us a feeling of comfort and safe. Why is that possible? Because the candle is losing itself. It uses its life to the fullest, to the end in order to give us the light, warmth, and comfort.
Jesus wants us to do the same. He wants us to use our lives to make others happy. It will surely involve pain and suffering, but this is what it means to love and to be a disciple of Jesus. He says “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” “Give up” means to let go. Entrust all your belongings and possessions to God, and that would include your loving family members. Do not worry, I will take care of every one of your loved ones. A voice of Jesus come into my heart. Holy Spirit is always with us and helps us to focus on God whatever happens in our lives and let us be true disciples of Jesus. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.