We’ve been accompanying Jesus’ disciples during these past few weeks, as they travelled with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Throughout this journey we’ve been constantly challenged by Jesus to think about what does it mean to be a Christian, a follower of his. It should be clear by now, it’s not just a matter of being baptized. A true Christian is not so simply because he or she happens to be born in a Christian family. My baptism is lived and reflected in my whole life, in my daily life. The choices I make have to be enlightened by the faith I profess.
In today’s gospel St Luke tells us that “large crowds were travelling with Jesus”. There is no doubt, he was a popular man. And, in spite of what some people would like to make us, sometimes, think, he still is today. Large crowds still follow Jesus today, at least nominally. According to the 2016 census, more than 54% of the population in Toronto declare that they are Christian, with more than half of these professing to be Catholic. Nothing much has changed since Jesus’ time! Seeing those crowds, Jesus offered them a challenge, a challenge that is being offered to us today. Basically he is telling us: if you want to really follow me, you have to make choices in life, which may, sometimes be difficult. Jesus, who is resolutely journeying towards his ultimate sacrifice in Jerusalem, wants us to help him set the world on fire by making certain definite choices. It’s about choosing to go through the narrow door, about consciously seeking the lowest places, about not being too concerned about one’s own rights—definitely not putting your rights over and above loving your neighbor … or your enemy!
Often unlike us, it seems that Jesus was not really concerned about numbers. Upon seeing all those crowds following him, instead of rejoicing and applauding them, it seems that he is actually discouraging them. He continues to challenge them to make difficult and unpopular choices. In today’s gospel Jesus reminds those who want to follow him that, being his disciple might come at a cost. He reminds them that there is a cross to carry (ultimately, that is what he is going to do, literally!). He also reminds than their becoming his disciples might create rifts between them and their loved ones, who might not share the same values.
Jesus is very real, very down to earth. He never gives empty promises. All he promised was that he will continue to be with his disciples, to accompany them, to never abandon them. And this promise is based on what is about to happen in Jerusalem. True, there he is going to meet his passion and death. But there he is also going to experience his resurrection, his victory over all that is evil, all that is wrong in life. There might really be trials and difficulties as I struggle to follow Jesus in my life. But it is all worth it, because I know that, ultimately, the victory is mine. Through my baptism I am not only called to carry my cross like he did, to share with him in his passion and death, but am also assured of a share in his resurrection.