The Calculus of Discipleship – Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sit down first and consider

Luke 14:25-33 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Reflection: I use the calculator app on my cell phone to add up, multiply, subtract, or to divide costs, materials, payments, discounts, or reconcile accounts that require accurate numbers. I use a different, much more sophisticated type of calculator for discerning my response to difficult decisions that factors in my values, my theology, my faith, scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prayer, the wisdom of friends, my personal and social ethics, laws, my relationships, the probabilities of gain or loss, the impact my decisions will have on others, and so on. This type of discernment calculus is patient, complicated, and often risky because it depends on numerous interdependent and independent, known and unknown variables, many of them beyond my direct and indirect control.

The builder in today’s gospel sits down to estimate the cost of building a tower. The calculus is rather simple. The problem to solve is whether she could cover the cost of a building project with the needed resources of labor, materials, money, and time. If the answer is yes, she can begin building with confidence that the project will complete. If the answer is no, then her options are to wait until the resources for the completion of the project are secure, she could scale down the project to make it more affordable, or she could scrap the build altogether to avoid bankruptcy, the negative impact a large-scale failed project will have on others, and public ridicule.

The king in today’s gospel has to calculate the probability of victory or the risk of defeat in a war with his enemy. He factors into his discernment calculus his advantages and disadvantages, the conditions of the battlefield, and the superiority or inferiority of his army’s weapons and training in comparison to his opponent. He discerns whether he can fulfill his national interests by winning the battle with resources and the right battle strategy. He asks his officers if they have the right tactics to attain the objectives of the battle plan. He ponders whether diplomacy and peace talks are his best option to procure the safety of his people. If the king thinks he can win, he fights. If he determines he will lose, he seeks peace with his enemy through diplomacy so to not endanger the people that depend on him for safety.

Jesus must have discerned that many in the crowd following him were calculating the cost and considering whether or not to become his disciples. Jesus cuts to the chase. He turns to them and tells them that discipleship is not a fair-weather venture; it is not something that can be set aside when things or life gets tough (Luke 9:23-25). Discipleship of Christ requires our surrender because it demands loyalty and allegiance to him over all competing loyalties, including family, self-interest, and possessions.

For many, discipleship requires a lot of figuring out and long consideration. Some people need to have all the answers beforehand as to how their life will be or turn out if they follow Christ. Discipleship is not like that. It is based on a trusting relationship with Christ and trust in his promise to walk with us throughout our lives, especially when life gets tough. As St. Patrick prays, when we surrender to Christ, we can arise with strength every day and carry our cross because Christ will be with us against every cruel and merciless power that oppose our body and soul. Christ promises to be with us, go before us, behind us, in us, beneath us, above us, on our right and on our left, when we lie down, sit down, when we arise, in the hearts of everyone who thinks of us, speaks of us, in every eye that sees us, and every ear that hears us. If we put the pencil to discipleship we’ll soon figure out that it is indeed a demand but is also a priceless gift.

Prayer:  I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me, from snares of devils, from the temptation of vices, from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near. I arise today as a disciple of Jesus Christ through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.*

* From an excerpt of the Lorica of St. Patrick, also known as the St. Patrick Breastplate Prayer.

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