(This is my first time preaching for some years — wish me luck!)
Readings: Jer 20:7-13; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Luke 14:25-33
In my time I’ve worked in vocations and I’ve known a few other vocation directors too and one of the things we have all wondered about from time to time is how to advertise, how to make the Jesuits known. Do we stick to the bare minimum – contact details maybe – and let our reputation do the rest? Or do we try and show what Jesuits are really like with life-stories and videos and a sense of our ordinary life and jobs. Or do we play to our heroism, with our martyrs and high aspirations? Do we appeal to a man’s generosity, his need to be bold, his desire to do something hard and impressive.
Whoever chose the Gospel reading for today’s celebration obviously went with heroism. The Ignatian spirit is about the cost of discipleship and that can appeal deeply to something generous and heroic in us, some place where great desires dwell, where daring is just waiting to be kindled.
Are we able to renounce all we have for Jesus’ sake? You bet! Are we able to risk death for Jesus’ sake? Gulp. Well maybe? Are we able to hate our mothers and fathers for Jesus’ sake? You mean really hate? Seriously?
There is an attraction to the extremism of those gospel challenges but for me the gospel today hides something else as well. It is the other half of the series of contrasts – if you don’t do X you cannot be Y. And I hear that ‘cannot’, that ‘you are not able’, being hammered home. The gospel hammers it home. Do you want to be a heroic disciple? You are not able, you are not able, you are not able.
I am not able. And while enthusiasm and daring and heroism are great things in Jesuits, another part of the Ignatian spirit is rooted deep in that inability. Ignatius knew, when it comes down to it, we cannot live up to our own ideals – we are not able. However heroically we start on the road of Jesuit discipleship sooner or later we become aware that we cannot and we are not able. We are weaker and more cowardly and more attached – we are more lost than we ever thought.
And that’s OK. Being lost is good news. It is good news because the very next three stories in Luke’s gospel are about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. It turns out that the God we want to find and follow is very good at finding what is lost. And rejoicing over it.