Monday, September 9, 2013

Luke 14: 25-33 — It was a hot summer afternoon in July 1861 when the Union army rode 25 miles south of Washington, DC, to meet the army of the Confederate States of America. Many citizens of Washington followed the army, most in carriages or buggies, some on horseback, and some walking. Most had packed a picnic basket, and when they arrived near Manassas at a little slip of water called Bull Run, the observers laid out their blankets and opened their picnic baskets to watch the unfolding battle from a nearby hill. The women sat beneath parasols to protect them from the sun. Some were fortunate enough to have looking glasses. Most squinted in order to observe what they could, hands covering their eyes from the sun. Every now and again an officer would send a messenger on horseback to report to the onlookers the news from the battle. As interested as they were in the battle, none of the onlookers were part of it. They were spectators, not warriors.

A number of years ago, when basketball legend Larry Bird retired from the Boston Celtics, Sports Illustrated magazine published an interview with him. He was asked a question something like this: “What is the one thing about fans that bothers you the most?” His answer came quickly, close to this: “After a long and grueling game, when I’m leaving the arena and fan yells out, ‘Hey Larry, we sure gave ‘em a great game tonight,’ I want to say to that fan, ‘we? – *WE* gave ‘em a great game? I didn’t see you hustling up and down the court. How many points did you score tonight?’”

The passage from Luke's gospel is striking. We have to wonder what prompted Jesus to turn suddenly to the crowd following Him and give them such a sharp message: “Unless you hate family and friends, unless you take up your cross, unless you sell all your possessions, you cannot be my disciple.”

Perhaps He saw a crowd watching from a distance but only that. Perhaps He wanted to remind them that to be His disciple is more than watching: “If you’re going to be my disciple, realize that you’re part of the battle, not an observer, and that you’re part of the team hustling up and down the court, not on the sidelines.”

There are those who treat Christianity as spectator sport. Entertained and inspired by the words of Jesus, edified by the charities of the Church, they seem to spread out their blankets and open their picnic baskets and watch as things are said and sung on Sunday morning, and then they go home and wait to be entertained and inspired again next Sunday morning.

Perhaps it is to those people that Jesus turned with sharp words: “That’s not enough.” No, the words and message of Jesus are not meant to be inspiring, they are life-changing, and unless one’s life is changed by those words, one is not a disciple of the Lord. How so? Unless the message and person of Jesus have an impact on decisions made every day, on social relationships and friendships, on personal and business ethics, on use of time and resources — well, unless one’s life is transformed by the power of Jesus, His grace, His astounding mercy, His teaching, one is not a disciple but just an observer.

To them, Jesus has another startling word: “Many will cry out ‘Lord, Lord’ and I will say, ‘I do not know you.”
September 8, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

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