Say a prayer for every priest in Australia today. They find themselves standing before you, having to preach on Father’s Day on a Gospel where Jesus says you have to hate your father and mother if you want to be his disciple. Sometimes, God bowls a googly on his priests, to keep them on their toes!

What are we to make of Jesus’ extraordinary words from today’s gospel? Let me offer a few points, which might help us get a handle on it. Firstly, there is a linguistic point to make. Jesus spoke Aramaic, a form of the semitic language. This language does not have many comparative words at a speaker’s disposal. If you have to make a comparison, you would need to use words that stress exaggeration and hyperbole, rather than subtlety and nuance. So, for example, Jesus talked of cutting off a limb if it caused you to sin; or saying you must die to self, in order to live; or claiming that it is harder for the rich to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. All of these are characteristic of the language Jesus spoke, and his statement that we must hate our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and even ourselves, if we want to be his disciple, is a prime example.

Secondly, this linguistic point doesn’t mean Jesus was somehow fudging what he was saying. To the contrary, Jesus was deadly serious about the costliness of discipleship. It was a constant theme of his to remind his followers that being his disciple meant following his path, which would inevitably lead to his crucifixion. Jesus meant it when he said that anyone who does not take up their cross and come after him, cannot be his disciple.

Thirdly, it is worth noting who Jesus was addressing when he made today’s claims. We are told that a crowd was accompanying him. The Gospel writers make a distinction between different groups of people who accompanied Jesus—there are ‘the crowds’, the ‘followers’ and the ‘disciples’. Each group can be distinguished by their level of belonging. The crowds were at the lowest level. We might think of them as ‘fair weather fans’: there when the going is good (lots of miracles, free food and nice parables), but who quickly dissipate when anything demanding comes along. To this crowd, to the no–conviction or commitment group, Jesus wanted to make a point that would register.

How might we now bring these three points together? Well, let’s borrow another of Jesus’ images to do so. You don’t start building your house without first sizing up what it might cost to do so. There is a price to being a disciple of the Lord. Jesus was not a celebrity seeking fans; he had a life to offer, which would need faith to take up. The call to discipleship is about investing in the building of God’s kingdom. It’s about putting our lives and our hopes on the line for the sake of a life that might bring grace and peace. The ‘hating’ of father and mother, and so on, is not about despising those we love, but about seeing where our convictions lie, and committing to that, to a meaningful measure.

The word that is most helpful in thinking this through is ‘investment’. A disciple invests his or her life in the life of Jesus. It does not mean giving up our own lives, but it does mean setting a direction to how we might live out the project of our lives, and then committing ourselves to that project. A married couple invest their individual lives in each other, for the sake of the family they seek to create. They will get nowhere with this build without a bit of personal investment in each other. Similarly, a disciple is called to invest his or her life with Jesus in building the project of God’s kingdom. May we be willing investors and humble builders with Christ.

Image: James Tissot, Our Lord Jesus Christ (Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ), detail.