Who Deserves Our Complete and Unconditional Surrender?

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 9:13-18B

Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.

Philemon 9-10, 12-17

I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.

Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

The expression “gospel radicalism” often causes people to raise their eyebrows and react in many different ways. Some see a disconnection between secular and biblical languages, others have different ways of understanding the term, often erroneously. In our modern time, the word “radical” carries the connotation of being “revolutionary”, something that is extreme, drastic and negative. Applying such a term to the gospel is truly exceptional but, in a certain sense, the gospel is rather radical largely because of Jesus’ many cutting edged messages. But apart from this, I would say there are two other areas that render this term relevant. The first is the radical nature of Jesus’ behaviour, attitude and actions; the other, the extensiveness of his demands. They are often directed not to a specific group of people but to all believers, across time and space.

Let us try to discover the legitimacy of the above claims from today’s Gospel reading. In order to understand the meaning and the orientation of today’s message, we should first understand the difficulty of the Hebrew language in expressing comparatives. In this case, “hate” is used in a relative, not absolute, sense. What Jesus means is not an emotional aversion or a sentimental dislike of ourselves or our families. It simply means we must never let our love for ourselves and our families be higher than our love for God. This is in fact the very first commandment demanded by God Himself (Deut 6:5). Jesus is simply reinforcing God’s words and conceptualizes them in our daily ways of living. So are these statements radical? Yes, but only literarily. Real radicalism lies in Jesus Himself——-daring to downplay the significance of family relationships to heighten the supreme significance of our relationship with God.

This radical trait of Jesus continues to unfold itself in His frankness to His followers concerning the cost of discipleship. Discipleship requires a deliberate choice in favour of Jesus, putting Him at the very center of one’s life and at the top of all priorities. It demands careful consideration from the very beginning for there will be no turning back. A disciple who has counted the cost and still commits to Jesus all the way is often seen as “radical” in the opinion of the world.

Clearly enough, the requirement to renounce, to break ties with, and to abandon everything has its justification only in relation to Jesus. It is this unique relationship with Him that demands our complete surrender: to be His disciple, to follow in His footsteps, to be worthy of Him. The demand for unconditional surrender and complete adherence is indeed radical. The person making these demands implicitly implies that He is the root, the source and the cause that gives rise to and sustains our very being. Who is worthy of making this claim but Jesus? “Gospel radicalism” is not only applicable to the sayings of Jesus, but also to His whole person. It forms the core of our Christian being. Those who are true to their Christian being must be prepared to embrace this challenge without reservation.

Posted: September 4, 2016

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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