Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Cost of Discipleship: Francis of Assisi's Commitment
When Francis heard Christ’s voice calling him to “repair my house,” Francis set about rebuilding the dilapidated structure of San Damiano. To do so, Francis needed supplies, and he had a plan. Since he had always had access to family funds for parties he wanted to throw, the young man figured it would be fine to use his father’s money for this noble project. So Francis saddled his horse and took a bolt of expensive cloth to the nearby market of Foligno. Selling both the horse and the cloth, he returned with a bag of gold coins to give to the priest at San Damiano to buy building supplies. Sensing that something was wrong, however, the priest refused the gift.
When Francis’ father, Pietro, found out what his son had done, he was furious. He not only “grounded” Francis but actually imprisoned him in their home. When Pietro went off on one of his long business trips, Francis’ mother released him. Picking up where he had left off, Francis began the restoration of San Damiano. In order to obtain building material for his project, Francis went through the town asking for supplies.
When he returned home Pietro was further enraged to find his son disgracing this well-to-do family by begging. Francis had become the joke of the town, shaming the family name of Bernardone. Infuriated, Pietro dragged his son before the bishop to have him rule in his case. Francis had a choice to make: would he love his family and cling to his inheritance, or would he give his life complete to God his heavenly father?
Without hesitation Francis made his choice. In an act that symbolized his complete renunciation of his family’s money, Francis took off all his clothes and dropped them at his father’s feet. Surprised by the naked young man standing in front of him, bishop took off his own cloak and covered Francis. This he most likely did out of embarrassment but also to show that Francis was now under the church’s jurisdiction. Francis had, in effect, taken a vow of poverty and was now under canon law instead of civil law. Having abandoned the expensive clothes of his youth, Francis would, for the remainder of his life, wear the coarse brown robe of a poor person as he followed Jesus in unmistakable humility.
Counting the Cost
This famous scene of Francis disrobing before his father took place in front of the bishop’s palace and Assisi’s old cathedral, shown in the photo above. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, the gospel is entirely free, yet it will cost us everything. For Francis, this meant surrendering his family’s name and inheritance.
So often Christians today want to have both—the comforts of the world and the Christ. But repeatedly Jesus calls all true followers of his to make a choice. “If anyone would come after,” says the Lord in Luke 9:23-24, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Spelling it out even further, Jesus asserts in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (NIV). The call of the Gospel is absolute—in comparison to our love for Jesus, our loyalty to all others will seem almost like hatred.
Although we may not need to repeat Francis’ action literally, the Gospel calls every true believer to make the same choice. Will we abandon ourselves so completely to Jesus that we are willing to walk away from everything and everyone else to follow him?
2010 © Glenn E. Myers