No one could deny that this week’s Gospel message is hard to take. St. Luke relates that Jesus tells us that “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life, too, cannot be my disciple. No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple.” (Lk 14:26 NJB) As my pastor indicated in his sermon this Sunday, some of this is a rhetorical tool of exaggeration to make a point. There is no getting around the point, however. Discipleship is hard. The rewards are great, but the road is far from easy.
The past couple days, my children and I have been reading about St. Joan of Arc. St. Joan was a young girl living in France in the early fifteenth century. At the time, France and England were embroiled in the Hundred Years War. At age thirteen, she began to hear voices that carried messages from God. By the time she was seventeen, she was convinced that God wanted her to lead French troops in battle to aid King Charles VII of France. After much effort and passing a series of tests, the King finally believed her and she ultimately experienced much victory in battle. Eventually, however, she was captured and put on trial. She never recanted her statements about her visions. As a result, she was convicted as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1431. She was only nineteen years old. Exonerated of her crimes thirty years later, she was canonized in 1920.
St. Joan obviously knew the cost of discipleship and was willing to pay the price. She was so young. It would have been easy for her to ignore the visions and voices. Her family and friends thought she was foolish. She had to persevere relentlessly to eventually get an audience with the King. It would have been so easy to give up, to go back home and live a quiet life as a French peasant. She might have been married and had children. She might have been “normal.” Instead she said “yes” to God’s plan, even to the point of giving up her life. She was willing to reject it all to do what God asked.
Lives of the Saints are filled with stories like Joan’s – men and women willing to give up parents, children, siblings, and even their own lives to answer the call of discipleship. Thankfully, God does not ask such a high price of all of us. Most of us are able to serve God without having to give up our families and our lives. Yet, there is always a cost to discipleship, a rejection of some things in order to say “yes” to other, greater commitments. God is asking us to put Him first. It is well and good to love our families, but we need to love God more. We can hope that the request never comes, but if asked, we should be willing to give it all up for Him. He made us. Our lives are His. Our task, like St. Joan of Arc’s, is to do what He commands.