I was on Relevant Radio's call-in spiritual direction show "The Inner Life" today. Every Friday the topic is determined by the Gospel of the following Sunday and today's topic was "Detachment." The Gospel on Sunday is Luke 14: 25-33 and has the following line of Jesus: "anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."
I began the show talking about the context for this saying of Jesus. "Great crowds," the Gospel says, "were traveling with Jesus...." Why? Was it because they liked His teaching? Or was it perhaps because He was able to feed thousands and heal many? Were they interested only in the earthly benefits that Jesus could bring them?
To make sure that they were following Him for the right reasons, I think, Jesus gave them a challenging word, telling them that they must be ready to let go of everything they might hold dear in this life in order to receive eternal life. He made it clear to the crowds that if anything on this side of eternity got in the way of the goal of eternal life--a relationship, possessions, honor or position--they should be ready to renounce it.
St. Ignatius makes the same point in the "Spiritual Exercises" where he writes: "Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him. ... Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created."
This makes good sense and the world understands this lesson well when it comes to its plans. I can just imagine Jesus saying that the people of the world are much more clever and focused than the children of the Kingdom of God. Worldly people manage their time according to their goals. They plan everything around succeeding in business. They have a slogan: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." If this is true for success in business and acquiring earthly wealth, how much more true is it for success in eternity and acquiring heavenly treasure?
Jesus didn't mince words about being ready to renounce everything for the sake of the Kingdom. But I can't help thinking that a lot of people in the large crowd that was following Him slipped away. It's not a message people like to hear, then or now.