What are the Conditions of Discipleship?

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“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). This comes at the end of a short passage where Jesus describes the very challenging conditions of discipleship. To follow Jesus is not a walk in the park. Though these words from Jesus, at first, seem very strange, we need to meditate on them through the eyes of faith, for they express the paradox of divine wisdom.

Jesus tells his disciples just prior to today’s passage: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (verses 37-38). To the secular mind, concerned exclusively to the material and emotional parts of reality, these words might seem to be utterly crazy. Such a one might think that this Jesus seems arrogant and full of himself. It is only with the eyes of faith that Jesus’ meaning can be fully grasped and accepted with joy.

When Jesus tells the disciples that they must be willing to “lose [their] lives” for his sake, he is actually telling them what he is going to do for them. He is going “lose” his life for the sake of all of humanity, freely and willingly. Jesus is revealing to us the real demands of true love here. Love is not about feelings, or what the other does for me. It is about total self-giving, a total emptying of the self for the other. It is not a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of relationship. Nor is it about becoming a doormat to the other. In the purely secular point of view, love is often nothing more than a good feeling. When the “feeling” (which, of course, is exclusively focused inward) is no longer there, one simply moves on the the next person or thing who can satisfy that feeling. The love that Jesus is talking about here, though, is completely focused outward, toward the other. It is selfless. The love that Jesus is referring to here, and that he modeled with his own life, is not about what one expects, or even demands from the other, but about giving oneself completely for the good of the other out of real concern, real compassion, real care, and real commitment to the other.

We are challenged to read these words and to contemplate them with humble and sincere hearts. Think about it. Jesus did die for us, willingly, out of a love so profoundly self-giving, so magnanimous and capacious that it could forgive every sin and every sinner from Adam to the Last Day. When he was on the cross, bearing all of our sins out of his unimaginable love for us, he held each and every one of us in his mind. He looked at each of us from the cross, with a love great enough to give everything he was and possessed, offering his all, his very life for us. By loving him in return, more than anything or anyone else, we actually perfect our ability to love our wives, our husbands, our children, our friends and neighbors, and even our enemies. By loving Jesus more completely, we become more like him. Our love increases and becomes more and more selfless. We become more and more willing and able to lose our security, our position, our personal safety, even our lives, if necessary, for the sake of the good of others, all others. This is the paradox that leads to paradise eternal. This is the love that Jesus is calling us to. This love has real life in it, both here and now, and in eternity.

Lord, Help us to see the wisdom of these words you have given us to meditate upon today. Our hearts are filled with a desire to love you above all else. Make us strong in our love for you so that we can bring that same self-sacrificing love to all those we encounter throughout our day. Give us the graces we need to be your true, loving, and faithful disciples. We pray these things in our name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.