Friday, September 27, 2013

Parish Pastoral Theme for the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Klang - 2014

In the second year of our 5 year Parish Renewal Experience, we want to focus on the second mark of the Church - "The Church is Holy". This year (2013), we looked at the first mark: "The Church is One". Next year, the parish will be invited to focus on these topics: The Universal Call to Holiness, the Life of Sanctification through the Sacraments, Prayer (both personal and communal), the Communion of Saints, and the Christian Life, with special emphasis on the Theology of the Body

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Infinite Chasm of Indifference

Twenty Sixth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Nobel Prize winner, holocaust survivor and prolific writer, Elie Wiesel, made this poignant observation: “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” Avoid the lengthy debate over semantics, throw away your thesaurus, and forget what common sense tells you; you have to admit that there is some truth to this statement. One would normally conclude that hatred is the opposite of love; indifference seems totally unrelated. But hatred requires effort; it requires that one actually cares enough about something to hate it. Apathy or indifference, on the other hand, is completely void of all passion, all energy, and all effort. The other just doesn’t exist, off my radar. Although other human faults, such as hatred, hostility, aggression, violence, lust, prejudice, often take the limelight; indifference maybe by far one of the most dangerous because it is silent and undetectable.

We see so many problems and evils in our society today: injustice, exploitation of migrants, violence, abortion.  Yet when asked about these things, many often show an attitude of apathy and complete indifference.  Many times, when asked people say that they have no opinion about important issues of today, or that they have not given them any thought.  Other times, they say that they are personally opposed to such evils, but they make no active effort to fight them.  An apathetic person will not exert any effort to make a difference in either direction.  He will simply sit back and watch events unfold.  In the words of the philosopher Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The horrors of Darfur, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the gas chambers of Auschwitz are part of our tragic and dark human history, because they are as much the children of apathy as they are the scion of violence.

In today’s gospel parable, we meet the ignoble character of the ‘rich man.’ Tradition names him as ‘Dives,’ which in Latin means exactly that, ‘rich man.’ There is a bit of irony in this: Lazarus is recognised by God, both in this life and the next; he has a name, he is known by God. Dives, on the other hand, is an abstraction, he is called "great wealth or riches." He is unknown to us, the readers of this story, and maybe we can say unrecognised by God. But the parable does pay attention to his lifestyle: he is described as a person who “dresses in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently everyday.” Laid outside the gate of this rich man’s house, however, was an extremely poor man named Lazarus who simply hoped to “fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” The rich man was completely indifferent to the plight of Lazarus. Eventually, they both died. Lazarus went to heaven, and Dives went to hell. At the end of the story, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers to repent so that they would never join him in hell. Abraham told the rich man that if his brothers did not believe in Scripture, neither would they believe a messenger, even if he came straight from heaven. Looks like man’s indifference to his neighbour is finally unmasked – it is merely a cover, a symptom of man’s indifference to God.

The parable is troubling because Dives was not a horrible person. In fact, the gospel never states that Dives mistreated Lazarus. There is no mention of him acquiring his wealth through unjust means. Then what did he do that was so horrible that he should deserve such a terrible fate. It was simply his apathy: he was enclosed in his safe little world of personal enjoyment. Irony in the story is accentuated by the mention of dogs – dumb animals seem to show greater concern and compassion than this man who wines and dines, blind to the presence of the beggar who sits at his gates. These non-human creatures display greater solidarity than a fellow human being. Lazarus, therefore, became not a part of suffering humanity but just a part of the landscape. In a word, the rich man was indifferent, and clueless: Indifferent to Lazarus’ plight, indifferent to his hunger, indifferent and clueless to his needs. They were the neighbours who never met.

The indifference which blinded Dives to the needs of Lazarus and others in this life is a foretaste of what is to come - the chasm that separates heaven from hell, a chasm wide and unbridgeable. There is no passing between the two, ever. In life, a big chasm had opened up between Dives and Lazarus due to the former’s apathy. Lazarus never showed up on Dives’ radar. In the death, this chasm has grown infinite – in the words of Father Abraham, a ‘great gulf’ separates the minions of hell from the minions of heaven. The chasm which Dives maintained through his indifference in life had ultimately set him apart from God in death. Now, it’s the rich man turn to drop off God’s radar. Indifference does not only spell human tragedy, it also means the lost of beatitude, the lost salvation.

With all the sophisticated new technology we now have, it is possible to surmise that that there would be a greater awareness and desire to help those in need. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true. During the Pope’s recent visit to the Island of Lampedusa, to remember the over 20,000 refugees who died attempting to make the crossing to Europe, he spoke of the globalisation of indifference: “Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility… We feel at peace with this, we feel fine! The culture of well-being (comfort), that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalisation of indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.” In his final indictment, the Pope concluded that society has “forgotten how to weep.”

Finally, the parable presents us another important lesson – the answer to poverty and suffering that we face in this world. Experience teaches us that this world is broken and our desires cannot be satisfied within the walls of the world. But the Christian answer to this is that the God who lives beyond the walls of the world is living and working within it in order to save it from brokenness caused by man. These are the paradoxes of Christianity which colour our faith and bring the light hope especially in moments of darkness – there is life after death, there is healing in brokenness. We do not value the world because it is perfect: it is ours, it is broken, and we broke it. Yes, what we desire is beyond what the world can give us. But our seemingly infinite desires are not beyond the truly infinite God who entered our broken world and took the worst of our brokenness on Himself. Even now He is here, loving our world and hating it, hating the sin which had disfigured it, and constantly working to redeem it. Unlike the rich man, God sees our wounded-ness and our spiritual poverty, and God acts. If indifference blinds and petrifies us into inaction, Love sees and Love acts – Love heals, Love pardons and Love saves. God is never indifferent to our struggles and pain. God sees, He acts, He heals, He pardons and He saves.

Today, let us echo the prayer said by Pope Francis at Lampedusa: “Lord … we beg forgiveness for our indifference to so many of our brothers and sisters. Father, we ask your pardon for those who are complacent and closed amid comforts which have deadened their hearts; we beg your forgiveness for those who by their decisions on the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies. Forgive us, Lord!”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Catholicism is not for Dummies!

Twenty Fifth Ordinary Sunday Year C

A feature article entitled “Religious People Are Less Intelligent than Atheists” appeared online on Yahoo a month ago. According to the research team from the University of Rochester, it was purportedly found in a substantial majority of case studies that there is “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity.” In layman’s terms, if you are found to be more religious, then you are likely to be less intelligent. They concluded that “intelligent people are more likely to be married and more likely to be successful in life–and this may mean they need religion less.” There you have it: the ingenious conclusion that marriage (not counting the number of divorces that follow thereafter) and success are the incontrovertible measure of intelligence! If you were to buy into any of this atheist propaganda that appears on the Internet you would have no choice but to conclude that Christians are some of the most ignorant, irrational, dishonest, deluded idiots on the planet.  

Catholics tend to receive a more severe beating than the rest of the pack. Both Protestants and atheists often accused Catholicism of being backward and the sworn enemy of science, progress and the genuine pursuit of knowledge. In short if you are a Catholic, you must be a moron. The point made is that something is seriously wrong with these Catholic idiots who believe these nonsensical fairy tales; a God who took the form of a mortal and died on a tree, a dead man rose from the dead, bread and wine changing into something gory and bloody, and finally that obnoxious belief that silly trivial acts of piety can actually shorten your incarceration in Purgatory. Based on the conclusions of the research, Rome (or Vatican City to be exact) is the virtual epicentre of moronitude, since there are so many celibates therein who are engaged in a profitless enterprise that’s doomed for failure! You get the point.

Now Catholics may have founded nearly every major university in Europe, their monasteries may have kept the very skill of literacy alive during the Black Plague and the famines, they may even have invented the press which allowed literacy to become commonplace, but none of that mattered. The general opinion is this: Catholics are stupid, period. I guess it’s not hard to understand why so many people, including Catholics, buy into this kind of stupid propaganda given what we’ve been consistently hearing in the past few weeks: the absolute demand made of disciples to abandon everything and commit themselves fully to Christ – a sort of spiritual kamikaze. Doesn’t this sound crazy? But, then one also detects a certain brilliance that arises from a different set of logical rules – the Logic of grace and Love.

As a crowning cap to this whole collection of seemingly nonsensical counsel or most profound wisdom, depending on which perspective you choose to take, we have the parable of the astute steward. This certainly takes the cake when it comes to the ludicrous. In fact, many Christians find it a source of embarrassment. In this pericope a steward seems to be commended for dishonest behaviour and made an example for Jesus' disciples. Jesus, who literally heads south, seems to have fallen off his rocker!

In this fairly simple, if somewhat unorthodox, parable from Jesus, there is a major reversal of sorts. In most of Jesus’ parables, the main protagonist is either representative of God, Christ, or some other positive character. In this parable, the characters are all wicked – the steward and the man whose possessions he manages are both unsavoury characters. This should alert us to the fact that Jesus is not exhorting us to emulate the behaviour of the characters, but is trying to expound on a larger principle. Certainly, Jesus wants His followers to be just, righteous, magnanimous, and generous, unlike the main protagonist in the parable. But what does this dishonest steward have to offer us as a point of learning? The gospel notes that Jesus commends him for his astuteness, his shrewdness.

The dishonest steward is commended not for mishandling his master's wealth, but for his shrewd provision in averting personal disaster and in securing his future livelihood. The original meaning of "astuteness" is "foresight" – the ability to see ahead and anticipate what’s in store in the future.  An astute person, therefore, is one who grasps a critical situation with resolution, foresight, and the determination to avoid serious loss or disaster. If foresight is the true measure of intelligence, a Christian must be ‘super’ intelligent since his foresight extends beyond this temporal plane, it penetrates the veil of death and catches a glimpse of the eternal vision of glory.  As the dishonest steward responded decisively to the crisis of his dismissal due to his worldly foresight, so disciples are to respond decisively in the face of their own analogous crisis with heavenly foresight. The crisis may come in the form of the brevity and uncertainty of life or the ever-present prospect of death; for others it is the eschatological crisis occasioned by the coming of the kingdom of God in the person and ministry of Jesus.

Jesus is concerned here with something more critical than a financial crisis.  His concern is that we avert spiritual crisis and personal disaster through the exercise of faith, foresight and compassion.  If Christians would only expend as much foresight and energy to spiritual matters which have eternal consequences as much as they do to earthly matters which have temporal consequences, then they would be truly better off, both in this life and in the age to come. St Ambrose provides us with a spiritual wisdom that can only be perceived through the use of heavenly foresight: “The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children are the barns which last forever.” In other words, true wealth consists not in what we keep but in what we give away. Real wisdom is acknowledging that worldly happiness and success cannot be the key indicators of a wholesome life, a self fulfilled life but rather as St Ireneaus indicates, “the glory of God is a man fully alive.” Wholesomeness is measured by the extent of how we live our lives for the glory of God, and not for ourselves or for things.

Finally, being astute means recognising that there is no contradiction between faith and reason; in fact ‘faith seeks understanding’ (fides quaerens intellectum). We should, therefore, resist the temptation of dumbing-down the message of Christ, to reduce the gospel to the level of compatibility with the values of the world. Many worldly values will always remain incompatible with that of the gospel. Catholics need to recover the courage to be deeply reflective in our theology, rooted in our catechism, and intellectual in the defence of our faith, rather than giving in to a shallow mushy version of religion and styles of preaching done in the name of that most abused concept of all, ‘pastoral reasons.’  In fact, “the greatest pastoral disaster is the dumbing down of our Catholic faith” (Fr Robert Barron).

I’m tired of hearing the excuse for pitifully shallow catecheses, because it is claimed that our lay Catholics won’t be able to grasp and understand the depth of Catholic theology and teachings, so they always need to be served bite-sized, dumb down versions of the original. I think that’s down right condescending. Often, people fail to understand not because they are obtuse but because they choose not to understand. The issue has less to do with intelligence than with sin which blinds and obscures. Let’s not give an excuse to atheist and Protestants to have another swing at us, especially for our failure to match reason to faith. In an ironic sort of a way, we need to be appreciative of critics and inquirers, and even be thankful to God for them. It is they who throw us the challenge to delve deeper into the treasury of Catholic thought. We come out the wiser.

The online article which I cited at the beginning claims that believers in God are less intelligent than non-believers. Perhaps no empirical research will be able to show this, but personal experiences of many will lay testimony to the fact that the most intelligent thing an intelligent human being can do is to turn to God, not away from him. The faith and lives of the heroes and heroines in both scriptures and the history of our Church testify to this. On the other hand, human history is full of evidence that secular humanist ideologies, socio-economic projects and other human experiments have failed to provide the ‘final solution’ to man’s troubles. Only God can do that. It is rightly said that wise men still seek Him, wiser men find Him, and the wisest come to worship Him. Yes, Catholicism is not for dummies!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Lost, the Stranger, the Refugee, the Migrant

Twenty Fourth Ordinary Sunday Year C

The buzz word on every Malaysians’ lips these past few weeks is the recent and sudden hike in the prices of petrol. The irony is that it had to happen just two days after Independence Day, a sick or some would even say a malicious kind of a joke, a national gift to all Malaysians; one that is certainly not going to earn much patriotic endearment in these troubled times. Malaysians vented their anger in the usual manner, online and in social circles, believing that the pump price rise was just the beginning of a whole slew of bad news to come, including the implementation of the controversial goods and services tax (GST). The nation’ and individuals’ attention have been so focused on dealing with this big financial dent in everyone’s pocket that another set of happenings seem to be off our radar.

A day earlier, the Malaysian authorities began a massive crackdown on undocumented migrants and refugees, a process which entailed hunting down, arresting, detaining and deporting without due process tens of thousands of persons, including women and children.  News report state about 2,000 people were arrested within the first 24 hours, including children and asylum seekers. Some of our parishioners, migrants, have also fallen victim to this operation. There is an overwhelming fear and anxiety within the refugee and migrant community. Many have gone into hiding and others have gone missing. Migrants and refugees are understandably afraid to travel and leave their homes; which explains the major dip in Church attendance of migrants and refugees at our masses. Yet, these happenings seem to have little impact on most people. The petrol price hike seems to be a more pressing concern.

The hunt down and arrest of migrants and refugees is a sort of twisted parody of the parables we encounter in today’s gospel. Rather than an expression of warm hospitality and loving welcome, we see quite the reverse. The search for these peoples does not end well, at least not in reconciliation. The present crackdown on migrants is just symptomatic of the shameful culture of exploitation and victimisation which targets the weakest and most vulnerable, especially the migrant community in this country that have been subjected to institutional slavery and human trafficking legitimised by discriminatory immigration and labour policies. But there is a parallel between the painful story of migrants and migration and the stories we just heard in today’s gospel. It is found in the theme of displacement and alienation. But what the gospel introduces into this equation is something radically unexpected, it is the certain and joyful hope of reconciliation. 

Today’s gospel is intended to be a veritable celebration for those who are lost, sinners, displaced, marginalised, as it dramatises in triple parables the merciful love of God that seeks out the lost, moves him to repentance and rejoices at his coming home. This is bound to strike a chord with all of us, because there is no one who doesn’t feel lost or displaced, or an unworthy sinner or marginalised in some way or at some time in their lives. We are introduced to these three parables by a short note of how the tax collectors and sinners, the dredges of society, were drawn to Jesus; they were attracted by his mercy and concern for their welfare. But the scribes and Pharisees, who were also drawn to Jesus, albeit for different reasons, resented the fact that Jesus welcomed those whom they regarded as the pariahs of society. Religious professionals, schooled in the law and in observance, the scribes and Pharisees thought they knew the mind and heart of God concerning sinners. Jesus, by his words and works, confronted them with the shocking and ‘unseemly’ reality that God not only loves sinners; indeed, he seeks after them and welcomes them with joy!

All three of the lost items in the gospel were things the scribes and Pharisees would have judged not worth searching for. After all, what logical person would leave a herd of 99 sheep to search for a stray? And who would actually sweep clean a house to find one coin when they had nine others? And who would open him/herself to greater misery by seeking out a prodigal child who had disgraced the family name and disassociated himself from his sacred heritage when you had another fine and upright son at home? Most sensible people would have just counted their losses and moved on. The scenarios were just plain incredulous and outright scandalous! And this is what is so amazing about the point made by these parables – the amazing love of God, the extravagant love of God – the heart of God, so immense that it encloses everyone within its orbit, a heart which rejoices at the return of the sinner.

These stories are beautiful parables about the mercy of God, but they are also parables about the suffering the migrants and strangers often endure through discrimination, violence and indifference of the people around them. It’s true that we can’t be responsible for the physical needs of every person that we meet each day. But it is incumbent on us as Christians to open our hearts to those around us, especially those who are isolated, those who are suffering, those who are strangers, those from another country, those who are vulnerable in any way.

In his first trip outside Rome after his election, Pope Francis travelled to the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a major point of arrival for migrants from Africa and the Middle East seeking entry into Europe. He wanted to commemorate the roughly 20,000 people who have died trying to make the crossing and to show solidarity with the survivors. The open air mass turned out to be a parabolic act – He was the Good Shepherd in search of the lost sheep, the poor woman frantically looking for her lost coin, and the gentle Father who welcome the return of the lost son. The visuals were stunning: The pope celebrated Mass at an altar made from the wood of a boat used by migrants. He spoke from an ambo that displayed its rudder and carried a pastoral cross and used a chalice also made from the boat's wood. Francis stood with the immigrants and listened to their stories, at one point stopping under a banner that read, "You're one of us!" Who could not forget at that moment that this humble Pope was also born to Italian immigrants who migrated to Argentina. He said on the night of his election to the papacy that the cardinals had summoned him to Rome from the "end of the world," making him now something of an immigrant himself.

If he had words of comfort, hope and consolation for the migrants, he matched these with a harsh condemnation of the rest of society whom he accused of falling prey to the ‘globalisation of indifference.’ "We have become used to other people's suffering, it doesn't concern us, it doesn't interest us, it's none of our business!" "So many of us, and I include myself, are disoriented," the pope said. "We're no longer attentive to the world in which we live. We don't care about it; we don't take care of what God created for all; and we're no longer capable even of taking care of one another." "When this disorientation takes on the dimensions of the world, it leads to tragedies such as what we've seen (here)."

As we prepare to celebrate Migrant Sunday in another two weeks, let us not fall victim ourselves to the globalisation of indifference and finally become so detached and alienated from the pains, sufferings and plight of others till we no longer seem human. We are not called to deal with an abstract situation, we are called simply to meet the stranger, but a brother nonetheless. This unique person may be a lost sheep, an unknown neighbour, a migrant, or someone who has a father in a distant land. And this father may be praying that someone, somewhere – you or me – would speak to his dear child and welcome him with sensitivity and compassion.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Job Vacancy: Disciple

Twenty Third Ordinary Sunday Year C

One of the biggest challenges of pastoring a large parish is identifying, training and managing a substantial number of volunteers that assist the parish priest in his duties. Now, this sounds exactly like a voluntary organisation, and I guess the culture of volunteerism does seem to have become the foundation of Church ministry and mission. The frequent cry you often hear in most churches is this, ‘We need more volunteers!’ Volunteering has become the primary way in which Christians are invited to participate in the work and mission of the Church. Over the years, I find that sustaining morale among Church volunteers has become a real challenge, sometimes it seems even impossible. We see our volunteers suffering from disillusionment and a constant need for tender-loving-care. The usual complaints we hear is that many feel unappreciated, ill-equipped for the job, a lack of support from others, and have become tired of the numerous criticisms heaped against them.

But perhaps the greatest problem lies in area of quality control. This is particularly true in the case of the Catholic Church. Well, you know what they say, ‘when you are only willing to pay peanuts, expect nothing less than monkeys!’ The most troubling issue when dealing with volunteers is that of commitment. There is no doubt that volunteer work is often a thankless and demanding endeavour, requiring great generosity, time and effort. We’ve eventually come to accept that if we demand too much of these volunteers, they would break and quit. We treat volunteers like royalty – tip toe around their mistakes and find it hard to hold them accountable. Too often we settle for less rather than for more.  In order to keep and please our volunteers, we end up lowering standards, compromising values and ultimately crippling the radical demands of discipleship in the name of survival.

It’s important and liberating to remember that volunteerism is not discipleship. While volunteerism has great value, even in the Church, it is not the central model for Christian life and service. We don’t need to recruit church volunteers—Jesus’ command to us was to go and make disciples. When it comes right down to it, there is a huge difference between volunteering from time to time, being a fair weather follower, and belonging totally to Jesus Christ. The individualism and consumerism that shapes how we participate in volunteering are incompatible with the selfless, all-demanding devotion that Christ calls for in participating in His mission. One of the benefits of being a volunteer is that there is always the option to take a break, to ‘sit this project out’, or even to quit. Volunteers set the agenda-when, how much, where, and what it is they will volunteer for. They are not tied down to anything or anyone. Discipleship, on the other hand, is not periodic volunteer work, on one’s own terms or at one’s convenience. As it is clear in the strong statements we find in today’s gospel, discipleship is total, unconditional, limitless commitment to Christ, requiring the greatest sacrifice, even that enduring suffering and death.

Structurally, today’s gospel selection is comprised of a catena of sayings on discipleship, followed by two parables. The sayings demonstrate a literary device in Semitic literature, the hyperbole; a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in ‘I could sleep for a year’ or ‘This book weighs a ton.’ We all know that these expressions do not really mean that we are going to sleep for year or suggest Herculean strength is needed to lift the book. The hyperboles or exaggerations help us to appreciate and imagine the gravity of what is being expressed. Thus, the forcefulness of the first saying in today’s gospel to turn one’s back on, or literally to ‘hate’, father, mother, etc, is shocking. The call to hate one’s family is certainly a polarising idea. The word ‘hate’ is the opposite of ‘love.’ Naturally, this is not an actual call to hate your family – hate is incongruent with the Christian life. To hate one’s family does not imply animosity or hostility but rather absolute detachment in the strongest possible terms. Part of the cost of discipleship is the willingness to forgo the joys of security of family ties so as to be bound completely to Christ.  Allegiance to Christ is total! ‘Hating’ parents simply meant loving Jesus first and foremost, above family and even above self. From that love would flow the willingness to follow Jesus by taking up the cross.

Therefore, the gospel sets out the difference between mere volunteerism and hard edged discipleship. It boils down to the answer you give to these set of questions – What are you prepared to loose? What are you prepared to give up? What is the cost you are willing to pay?  Disciples are willing to pay the price of giving up everything for the sake of the kingdom. Volunteers just settle for cheap grace. Dietrich Bonheoffer, the Lutheran theologian executed by the Nazis at the end of World War II, describes cheap grace as the ‘enemy of the Church.’ I guess one could say that volunteerism is the product of cheap grace. According to him, “cheap grace is grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

What true disciples are fighting for is not cheap grace but costly grace. Bonheoffer tells us that “costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has... it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

Today, we are called to do an accounting of the sacrifices we need to make and the cost we are required to pay for the price of authentic discipleship. In the two short parables you just heard, Jesus communicates the necessity of entering into the process of discipleship with a clear head and the intention of persevering, holding fast till the end. The man who wants to build a tower must count the cost to make sure he has enough to finish the job. The king who is going to war must first count his troops and resources to make sure he can win the battle. In both parables the message is clear: Those who begin a major endeavor need to be prepared to see it through to the finish. Throughout our lives we will be tempted to quit when suffering threatens us, when we face criticism, when the cost seems too heavy, when we receive little reward or encouragement. The importance of counting the cost of discipleship is apparent when we see the point of our endeavour is to finish the race, not just merely to start it. Some say the hardest part is getting started. If this is true though, why do we hear stories of people who give up on their diet, stop writing a novel or quit a difficult task at work. Maybe it’s not the start but the finish that’s so difficult. The goal should always be to finish, not start. And in order to finish, we must be prepared to pay the cost and make sacrifices.

Today, what the Church needs is not more volunteers. We have enough of that and we could do with less of that! What the Church needs, what Christ wants, what salvation demands is this –men and women who have counted the cost and who are committed to Jesus regardless of the cost, and who will not stop in the middle of the stream and go back. Discipleship is not for the faint of heart. Discipleship is not for the lukewarm. Discipleship is not for the fence-straddlers. Discipleship is for the committed, for the consecrated and dedicated. Discipleship is for those willing to put their hand to the plow and not look back. Discipleship is not for a day, or for a week, or a year. Discipleship is for the rest of our lives. Discipleship is for those who are willing to follow Him regardless of what they have to let go of and leave behind. These are the clear job descriptions that disciples must know and be prepared for: No reserves – sacrifice everything, no retreats – press on, no regrets – finish the race.