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God wastes nothing. Every experience, every encounter, every educational opportunity you have had, God will use. And more, God will use your hurts, disappointments, failures, weaknesses, and even your sins if you allow him to do so. God will make use of all you know, as well as everything you don’t know. He will bring you to the right place at the right time with the right people: I am convinced that this is one of his greatest pleasures.
Of course, in order for God to make use of us, we need to have made the choice to live in relationship with him. That is, to be his disciple. And that’s where things get sticky. Discipleship doesn’t seem to come naturally to any of us. Perhaps that is because once we have tasted the first sweetness of divine love, we begin to discover just what that love costs not only God, but us. Perfect love not only means having to say you’re sorry, it means laying your life down for those who aren’t sorry at all. Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap. Faith gives life, but only to those who are willing to lose their own in the process. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in “The Cost of Discipleship,” “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
The call to follow Jesus is not really an invitation to have him accompany us on our paths. Rather, it is an offer of grace necessary for us to walk his road with him. That road, by the way, is the road of the cross. Sure, the incarnation brought God closer than close. In Christ, God is forever “with us.” But the purpose of the incarnation does not end there, it has far more than earthly goals. God became like us so that we could become like him.
Walking God’s road God’s way is simple, but it isn’t easy. That is why the readings we are given in these weeks that close out the summer don’t qualify as “easy listening.” But this portion of the lectionary gives each of us a much needed chance to consider what it is we are doing with our lives, an opportunity to count the cost of our discipleship, in whatever state we find it to be.
It is easy to talk about how God wants everything from us, how we are called to leave our possessions, even our families, and lay down our whole lives for Christ. But when we go about counting the cost that Christian discipleship incurs, we do well to also consider what it costs us not to follow Christ. Friendship with God will ultimately demand of us all that we have and all that we are. It will also give us all that we need, all that we hope for, and more than we can even begin to imagine. But if we choose against friendship with God, our debt becomes more than we can pay. We are suddenly like the king with only 10,000 soldiers facing another king with 20,000 troops. The larger army is no longer distant, and it is too late to negotiate a peace treaty.
Jesus knew our tendency to feel secure when things stay pretty much the way they are. Change challenges all of us, even the most progressive or flexible. Yet, change is what Jesus came to bring. His Gospel is radical and revolutionary. It offers us the only love that can make us more like love itself, the only love that has the power to hold us in love. Jesus himself encouraged those who followed him to count the cost of what it was they were undertaking. He knew that what he was offering humanity was glory, but not glamour. He knew too that while many would desire the view from the top, few would be willing to pay the price to finish building the tower. So let us follow him, let each of us carry our cross, come to him and die. And in the dying, let us build.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.