My grandmother displayed several pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in her home. These portrayals of our Lord often brought me consolation, especially through periods of uncertainty. A meditative gaze into these portraits led me to Jesus, who, with his shepherd’s crook, lovingly and wisely led me through valleys and into light and life.
Yet Luke’s passage portrays a very different Jesus. He has put his crook down for a few moments to speak about the cost of discipleship. The heavy cost.
He does not mince words. Far from the tender shepherd who carries lambs across his shoulders over rough terrain, Jesus says it plainly: get ready for division, friction, and sacrifice.
In this reading, we encounter images and words we may not be used to hearing from Jesus: carry your own cross, renounce all your possessions, and, perhaps the toughest one to negotiate: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother…cannot be my disciple.” Is this the same Jesus who shepherded us through those dark periods of life?
Of course, Jesus’ sayings are not literally about hate, for God is love, and we as his disciples are called to perpetuate that love, not enmity. But he does demand that we have our priorities straight: God is first, and always should be.
Jesus’ words are tough but necessary. And although my grandma had no images of this Jesus on her walls, I know that meditating on this aspect of our Lord is just as integral to our spiritual lives as is meeting the Good Shepherd in our prayers.