Scripture Readings: Book of Wisdom 9:13-18; Letter of Saint Paul to Philemon 9-17; Gospel According to Saint Luke 14:25-33
The first words we hear from Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel passage might almost startle us. They were spoken by the Lord to convey without the shadow of a doubt a very important message to his followers. The words of Jesus are these: “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Those are very tough words and what are we to make of them?
Why does Jesus say we must “hate” our loved ones and even ourselves? The strong language used by the Lord stems from his setting and times, what we would now call a Semitic worldview, where very strong language was used to convey a teaching in no uncertain terms. So without a doubt we can say the term “hate,” as we normally understand the word, is not to be taken literally, but what is the underlying message?
Jesus wanted to make clear the vital point that for those who wish to follow him, namely, that nothing and no one other than God should take precedence or first place in our lives. That place is reserved for God alone. Should we actually hate those who are not God? No, for the law of love is clearly at the heart of the Gospel teaching.
Another way to express the words of Jesus in our daily life is that we are to prefer God to every thing and every one else, and at the same time never neglect the supreme law of love for one another. In fact that is one of Jesus’ parting words to his chosen band: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
We are being asked by the Lord to place our lives totally in his hands with absolute trust. I would say I experienced something of this kind of trust some years ago on a trip from our monastery in Mexico near Veracruz when Hurricane Dean was active. We drove from the monastery toward Mexico City in the middle of a tropical storm, since the hurricane had been reduced to that status. Driving for two hours through heavy rain, strong winds, and thick fog in places, with many fallen branches and trees strewn across the mountain pass we were traversing, made me pray silently more than once, “Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Fortunately we made the journey safely, in part due to the Brother-driver’s good skills, but it was a hair-raising adventure to say the least. I was vividly reminded by the adventure to place my trust in God!
Handing over our lives to God is going to entail all our effort, but it is truly worth it. Jesus wishes to give us lasting and true happiness, peace and joy unending and everlasting life, but it comes at a price. We must be willing to give all we have to possess what in fact is everything we will ever need. This is what has been called, “The Gospel without compromise.” It is not about dollars and cents, though, but spiritual riches, awaiting those who will carry their cross and actually find themselves being cared for and carried by God.
In comparison with the love God has for us, clinging to any earthly treasures and pleasure is like walking in utter darkness without a flashlight, when we are meant to be walking in the full light of a sunlit day. God is to hold first place in our life. Jesus told his followers elsewhere in the Gospels that to do so, to strive to do God’s will, qualifies such ones as brothers and sisters of Christ.
So we must ask: is God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, holding the most important place in my life and is my life centered in Christ? Probably none of us can give a resounding “yes,” to the question, but if we strive for such a goal with sincerity and perseverance, we have to believe that it is slowly becoming a reality and that our love for others will attain its full growth as well.
Jesus goes on in the Gospel today to make a comparison. If someone wishes to construct a tower, he or she must calculate the cost to determine the go ahead. No one wants to be laughed at for a barely-begun or half-finished project. In the same vein, our commitment to belong completely to Christ must not be half-hearted, but one hundred per cent, knowing we have sufficient funds, namely God’s active grace, alive and at work in hearts that belong fully to God. Our decision to follow Christ is to be serious, permanent and definitive, and Jesus promises we will not be disappointed in our expectations.
We live in times when commitment to anything and anyone is not fashionable or easy. Nevertheless, in the depths of our hearts we are all seeking something that will last and offer us hope in a world asphyxiated by strife, unhappiness, brokenness and despair.
Christ wishes us to belong to him and to allow him to take all our burdens and weariness upon his infinite tenderness. Belonging to Christ will not end our sufferings, but will make them bearable under the shadow of his outstretched arms. God so loved the world that Christ was sent to earth by God to redeem the human family.
The final comparison Jesus makes in the Gospel passage today is about a king preparing to go out to confront another king and the need to calculate before hand if the fight is really possible with the resources at hand. If the numbers are too few, the king will send a smaller delegation to seek terms of peace with the opposing forces. How is this to be interpreted for our spiritual enrichment?
Too often our world is focused on pleasure, possessions and self-seeking, as if these are the things that really matter. Christ is calling us to something and Someone else, Christ, who asks each of us to commit ourselves entirely to the love of God and neighbor, for a life that is truly fulfilling and that will extend to eternal life in heaven.
Whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we pledge ourselves to adhere to Christ, who has called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (First Letter of Saint Peter, chapter 2, verse 9).
We are attracted to that light where we find warmth, nourishment and renewed energy for our life in Christ, who is our strength and the Bread of Life. God gives to us so that we might stay on the path we have been called to walk as followers of the Lord. We willingly partake of this feast to be united with our Lord, who is ever our Way, our Truth and our Life.