Last November, you may have read the news story about the new shoe store that opened up in a mall in Los Angeles. It was an upscale store, featuring shoes that cost $500 or more. Called “Palessi”, they invited a number of media personalities to its grand opening, and over the course of the weekend these celebrity guests shelled out over $3,000 for shoes. Imagine their surprise, then, when it was revealed that the store was an elaborate stunt – “Palessi” was actually a “Payless Shoe Store,” and the shoes that sold for $500 were the exact same as the ones that go for $19.99 in Payless! They thought that because it cost more, it was somehow worth more!
There have been studies shown that people consider something to be a higher value when it costs more. A study published in 2008 gave two groups of people the exact same wine. One group was told it was a boxed wine; the other group was told it was an expensive and pricey vintage. The group that was told it was expensive reported that it was more flavorful and more pleasant to drink – even though it was the exact same wine!
So when Jesus talks about the costs of discipleship, He is making it clear that He is offering something of unsurpassed value. To possess Christ and His friendship is the most worthwhile, most important thing in the universe – hence, it must cost the most.
But many of His disciples don’t understand that. It says that “great crowds” followed Jesus – but why? Well, Jesus did some incredible miracles – feeding five thousand people, healing the sick. Some people followed Him because they wanted free food and free healthcare (sounds like why some people vote for certain politicians…!). Others followed Him because He was a great teacher – His words were captivating.
But Jesus wants to make it clear that to be His disciple is more than just fancy words and free dinners. It would take true self-denial to all that is not Him. Let’s look at the three things He asks us to deny in this past Sunday’s Gospel:
First, there must be no loves more than Christ. So often I hear people complain, in the confessional, that their boyfriend or girlfriend is leading them into sin. Others tell me that their friends are a bad influence on them. Then we must choose! Who do we wish to please – our significant other? Our friends? Or is our love for Jesus strong enough that we choose Him over all other people?
Second, He says we must carry our own crosses. Great crowds were following Jesus – because they were all headed toward Jerusalem. The crowds thought that He was going to take possession of the Kingship, but in reality, He was headed to the Cross. I would be lying if I said following Jesus was easy, but it is not. We have to face the Cross of giving up our own desires, pleasures, and goals, and instead seek His glory instead.
At almost every other funeral, the family of the deceased requests that we play Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” as one of the funeral songs. What a terrible song – as Ol’ Blue Eyes sings, “I did it my way.” No Christian should ever want that song applied to their life! For a Christian, it’s not about my way, but about Jesus’ way. All of our decisions must be for His glory, not our own convenience. So when we are making a decision about how to spend our time or money, where to work and what our family size should be, what to watch on TV and how we should vote, we don’t seek that which is easy or comfortable – as a Christian, we seek what glorifies Him. And this often means choosing the Cross.
Finally, Jesus says we must “renounce” our possessions – the things of this world that interest us. I think of saints like St. Katherine Drexel, the second American saint, who was a rich heiress in Philadelphia in the late 1800s. She shocked all of high society when she gave up her $20 million inheritance to become a nun who worked with the Black and Native American population. They thought she was crazy – but actually she was just taking the Gospel seriously. Think about your possessions – if any of them (or all of them) were taken away tonight, would you still be at peace? Would you still trust God? Or would you be distraught? Would you feel like a part of yourself is missing? Because if our hearts are attached to anything on this earth, they cannot be fully attached to Jesus Christ in Heaven.
My friends, Jesus does not mince words about the cost of discipleship. He says it takes self-denial – to choose Him above all other relationships; to choose the Cross of doing His will and not our own; to love Him above all of our possessions. But the cost is commensurate to the value. Possessing a deep friendship with Christ costs everything – because it is worth everything.