“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
Often when we read the parables of Luke 15, we understand them from the perspective of the one looking for the lost sheep, or for the lost coin, or desiring that more prodigal sons would return to the Father. We put ourselves in the place of the man looking for the lost sheep, or the woman sweeping and looking for the coin.
Today I read these parables immediately after reading the very demanding words of Jesus in Luke 14 regarding the cost of discipleship (and these include not just Luke 14:25-35, but the whole chapter, since in Luke 14:7-11, he is challenging us to humble ourselves, and in Luke 14:12-24, he is challenging us to heed the invitiation to the banquet and come).
When we see the parables of Luke 15:3-32 in the light of Luke 14, we understand that they form the other side of the coin of Jesus’ “hard” call to discipleship. Jesus is saying that when we heed his call to put him first and deny everyone and everything to follow him alone, then the angels in heaven rejoice over our repentance, and the Father rejoices in our return.
God calls us to Christ not just with the “hard” words of Jesus’ challenge to deny ourselves, but also with “soft” words that show us the joy of heaven when we deny ourselves and follow Christ. If we only had the hard words, we might be tempted to think that when we forsake everything to follow Christ, the Father thinks, “Good, it’s about time you came to your senses and obeyed me.” But the “soft” words (and I’m not sure I like that term, but it’s the best I can do to make the contrast) remind us that Jesus loves us and is only calling us to “hate father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes even our own life” because he wants us to know the joy of the Father’s welcoming embrace.
“Renouncing all that we have” (Luke 14:33) is actually giving up “pig food” (Luke 15:16) so that we can enjoy the “fattened calf” (Luke 15:23) that our Father prepares for those who come in repentance. Don’t think that Jesus calls you to a cross because he enjoys seeing you suffer. He calls you to a cross because that is the way back into the fold. The cross of discipleship is none other than the cross of union with Christ which brings us back into the loving arms of the Father.