Some few years ago I attended a Sunday Mass in Montreal, one which had the same Gospel as in today's celebration. After Mass I spoke to the priest on the challenge this Gospel offered. He admitted that he found it a difficult passage, but he said, "I think I got it."
Luke's sparse writing invites imaginative reflection. The opening verses of chapter 14, those before today's reading, place Jesus as a dinner guest on the Sabbath at the house of a prominent Pharisee. He heals a sick person and offends some of the righteous, it being the Sabbath and all.
Then in today's reading, Luke makes an abrupt change from the dinner table to the outdoors where Jesus continues teaching.
Luke writes, "Large crowds were travelling with Jesus." How many people in "large crowds"? A hundred? Fifty? Twenty-five? We don't know.
'Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.'
But some things we can infer: most of the people were friendly, but probably not all of them. They accompanied Jesus because of his renown, and some because they wanted to become his disciples. Later, they would eagerly tell their friends what they had done. In our day we would say "he had celebrity status."
As they accompanied him, they tried to anticipate his destination and they might have jostled him. They peppered him with small talk, questions and comment, "You once spoke of forgiveness. I like the idea, but why do it?"
Another person pressing nearer asks, "You told about the young scamp who blew the inheritance his father gave him because of his wild ways. Why would his father welcome him back? I don't get it, etc., etc."
This talking continues, now a question, now an answer, now a "Huh? What did he say?" They walked, stirring up dust, dodging holes and stones on the road, brushing away flies and sweat.
The questioning and comment becomes importunate and Jesus can answer only those nearest him. But he soon realizes that their questions reflect the interests and needs of others, farther away in "the crowd." In Luke's simplest description, "he (Jesus) turned - to them . . .".
Impatient with the persistent questioning? Perhaps. He stopped. He turned to them. He held up his hands, palms outspread, seeking silence.
If he spoke like a 21st century Canadian, he would have said, "Wait a minute! Some of you have questions. I can see you genuinely want to know. Let me give you the lesson as in a parable. I want to make the point: Whoever comes to me and does not hate their father and their mother, wife and children. . . . "
As Luke reports it, Jesus says discipleship requires full commitment.
People live by the standards Jesus lays on them in today's Gospel when they behave well, when they care for each other, when they forgive each other, when they love God, their neighbour and themselves, when they seek to do his will.
As the priest at the Sunday Mass in Montreal said, "I think I got it."
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)