St Ignatius

The gospel tirade we hear today comes right after a bad night out with a leading Pharisee. It all starts when Jesus cures a man of dropsy and gets the dinner guests upset—it being the Sabbath. Then, as he watches these guests jockeying for the best places at table, he launches into a series of extremely pointed stories about how to behave at banquets. And now, the morning after, here he is, storming down the Jerusalem road, pursued by great crowds who think they want to follow him. And it is like he is sick to his stomach with it all.
So he fires off this barrage of stories about just how serious a thing it is to really follow him, to do more than show him off to your friends at a dinner party, or say you’ve seen him live at one of his open-air gigs.
How serious? “You’d better hate your family”, he says. “You’d better be ready to hang. You’d better be ready to die”.
Maybe on a better day he’d have found a way to say his piece without scaring the hell out of us. But we have to take his anger seriously too. He was sick of spiritual tourists. He was sick of being used. He was sick of being the latest big thing. “You want to follow me”, he says, “then you’d better give up all you own”.
But there are two things, despite the shock tactics, that give me heart. The first is this. There seems to be something about following Jesus that is always like making a beginning—starting to build that tower, or preparing to wage that war. We should give our following all the consideration and care we give to any new beginning. And maybe your mind runs off to thinking you don’t have what it takes—like the builder and the king—and you’d better give up before you start. But I don’t think that Jesus is trying to discourage us. I think he’s saying there are no old hands in the business of discipleship—we are all beginners. Every one of us is just starting fresh. Every one of us should be happy that we really don’t know the slightest thing about how to do it, about how to follow him.
What’s the other heartening thing? I said there were two. The other is what comes next. After this reading, after all the noise and anger directed at phony people, Jesus goes on to tell three parables about the genuine God, the God he loves: the parable about the shepherd who lost a single sheep but found it; the one about the woman who lost a day’s wage but found it; and the one about the father who lost his youngest son but found him again.
We might be perpetual beginners when it comes to finding and following God but God is damned good at finding us.