THE COST OF COMMITTMENT!
It’s September again, and so the thoughts of many of us in Australia
are about which team is going win the AFL or NRL premiership this year. It’s a time of both agony and ecstasy, as we see our hopes and dreams for our favourite team either smashed to pieces bit by bit. Or else we see them completely and deliriously fulfilled when our team of heroes makes their victory-lap around the sacred turf of the Grand Final ground!
To be a league footballer takes an exceptional dose of raw talent, skills in marking, kicking, passing, reading the play, running, jumping and tackling, as well as at least a little bit of sheer good luck. What is often not realised or not given enough attention, is the tremendous personal cost of becoming and staying a champion. The many nights of laborious practice at the ground, the fitness-training, the sacrifice of recreation and leisure time, the selfdiscipline, the humiliation of being singled out by the coach for some merciless correction, the disruptions to family life, the putting a promising career on hold, and the deferring of some important studies, and so on!
To become the best in other occupations, careers and pursuits, involves just as much cost. The great novelist, Charles Dickens, author of such favourites as A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Old Curiosity Shop, didn’t receive a cent for his first nine novels. Lawrence Tibbet, a star tenor at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, was so poor just before his dazzling career took off, that on his first visit to the Opera his ticket took him to the Standing Room Only section. John Rockefeller, famous for both his fortune and his philanthropy, started life hoeing potatoes at four cents an hour. Every good wife, every good husband, every good parent, knows just how much it costs to hang in there, doing all that has to be done on what the late Passionist Alfonsus Foley used to label ‘the terrible every day’. It costs energy, it costs courage, it costs feeling inadequate and feeling misunderstood, and it always costs doing one’s personal best.
It’s much the same being a follower of Jesus. It’s going to cost, it does cost, and it costs a heap. It costs being both single-minded and single-hearted. That’s very clear from his teaching today. It’s a message put in terribly stark words. Jesus speaks of walking in his footsteps carrying our cross as we go. He speaks of giving up our possessions. He even speaks of ‘hating’ our father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters.
Does he possibly mean us to take that last one literally? Surely not! For isn’t one of two basic commandments, to love our neighbour as another self? And isn’t our neighbour our very own family first of all, those whom we call ‘our nearest and dearest’? So, to make sense of what Jesus means, but without watering down his message, we must realize that Jesus speaks as a firstcentury Jew. As such, he gets the attention of his listeners by using shocking, even exaggerated images. So when he says that we must be prepared to ‘hate’ the members of our own family, we are not to take his words literally. It means that he must be the number one love of our lives, and that we must not prefer anyone else to him. Even if our choice to follow him and belong to his community, the Church, gives us grief and costs us a heap of hostility from family and friends, we must not flinch from our commitment.
In the early Christian communities, those who took the plunge of getting baptised, joining the Church, and living like Jesus, often found themselves dumped and ostracized, by family and friends alike. The same thing has happened in every other century and is still happening today. On announcing they are joining a Church people have been chucked out of their own homes and told never to darken the door of the family home again!
Being a disciple of Jesus is neither a hobby nor a part-time activity that we pick up when we’re interested, and drop when we get bored or the going gets tough. The opposite applies, that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. Being baptised is belonging permanently to the family of Jesus, that new family he spoke of, where the basis of relationship is not having the same blood or the same genes but ‘hearing the word of God and keeping it’. So being baptised is like being married. It’s a life-long relationship, an ongoing relationship with the person of Jesus, and with the other members of his body on earth, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow-disciples.
The bonding that we have with Jesus personally and with his Church is both a priceless gift and an enormous daily challenge. Like any lover, Jesus has high hopes and great expectations of us. In his story of the man who began to build the tower but left it an unfinished shell, Jesus challenges us to keep living our commitment to him expressed and celebrated at Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion.
So it’s appropriate for each of us to ask what parts of our lives still remain ‘unfinished business’? When all is said and done, does Jesus Christ mean more to us, than anyone else or anything else in the world? Would we even be willing, If the crunch came, to die for him? Would we?
Let us pray, then, as did St Richard of Chichester, for the grace ‘to see him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly, day by day’. Especially in our relationships with all our fellow-followers of Jesus!