(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm, Sunday 7:30am & 9am; Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: Sunday 5.30pm)
8 September 2013
(Readings: Wis 9:13-18; Ps 89; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33)
Today’s Gospel begins by telling us that “great crowds accompanied Jesus.” It’s fairly easy to imagine this: here was a miracle worker, a charismatic preacher … people wanted to be there, some of them probably just to see what was going to happen next! But it’s interesting think about what happens later in the story: how many people were there when Jesus was hanging on the Cross? Not many, just his mother, and a few of the others. Certainly not the great crowds that had once been milling around him.
So at the beginning of today’s scene, the great crowds are there. A bit like people milling around a popstar, following him along the way, seeing what he was going to do this day. I wonder what they thought, then, we he turns to them and says, “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciples.” Even as we hear those words, I’m sure we want to soften them: particularly the words “hating” and “cannot.” And yet, there we have Our Lord’s words.
Of course, the scholars help us to understand the Jewish turn of phrase that Jesus was using. We could translate his words, “If any person comes to me without loving less his father, mother, …” In other words, Jesus is saying, “you must love me more than any of these others, and you must love me even more than your own life.”
The heart of the spiritual life is the belief that God must be first in our lives: we must love God, and then love everything else for the sake of God. And so we mustn’t put in the place of God anyone or anything else that is not God. It sounds obvious and simple, but in reality, things get a bit murkier than that. Jesus recognises that we have a temptation to allow things that are not God to take the place of God in our lives.
So therefore, if a person allows their parents’ desires, or the fact of pleasing their parents, to become the most important thing in their life, that’s a problem. In just the same way, if parents make their children the absolute centre of their lives, and end up manipulating their children and living their own dreams through them, that’s a problem. Someone might retort: surely we are to cherish our parents, our spouse, and our children. Yes: cherish, but not to make them into gods, and to put them in the centre of our lives. And so, to use Jesus’ word, we are to hate them to the extent that they have taken the place of God in our lives … we must love them less than God … we must love God first and last, and then love everyone else for the sake of God.
Sometimes after someone dies you’ll hear a person say something like, “that person was everything to me.” Now, very often, that’s just a turn of phrase: like’s Jesus’ turn of phrase, his hyperbole, over-exaggeration to make the point. But, sometimes, that saying has actually approached reality. Sometimes a person has made someone everything in their lives …. and that is a problem. Because only God can be everything to us. No other person can do that. And so if we have made some person everything to us, then we’ve made them a god, and that can only be a false god.
And, it’s not just other people, but Jesus adds to the end of his list that we must hate our own lives too. So, in the same way, our own plans, hopes, desires, dreams must not become a god in our lives. We must love them less than God. We must love God and God’s will first, and then in that love, we are to live our hopes and desires and dreams. Because it is only when we follow God’s purposes that our lives will be joyful, and meaningful.
Whether we like it or not, we won’t truly get the Christian “thing” unless we grasp that we have to die to self. This is what Jesus was saying when he said, “anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” When we hear about the cross, we have to acknowledge that Jesus’ words have been tamed quite a lot for us. We’re used to seeing crucifixes and crosses decorate our walls – we even wear them as jewellery. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But when Jesus first told those “fair weather fans” milling around him that unless they take up their cross they cannot be his disciple, those people certainly didn’t think of a mere decoration. To them, “the cross” meant only one thing: the gruesome instrument of torture and death that they would have seen used with their own eyes … and that in the not too distant future, the same thing on which Jesus was going to hang and endure an ugly, awful death.
And so, just as the Cross was awful, this is an awful teaching of Jesus! And we really need to feel the slap in the face that it would have been to those people milling around enjoying the spectacle.
To follow Christ is demanding and challenging. It means we have to put our relationships right. It means that anything or anyone who has taken the place of God in our life needs to be dethroned. God is to be loved first and above all, and everything else loved for the sake of God and God’s will and God’s purposes. Our own self-will, or ego, our selfishness, needs to be put to death, so that we can rise to live for God alone.
Our Lord knows that we will find this difficult, and that we may well rebel against it, long and hard. He asks us to do difficult things, but he has promised to remain with us to the end. He claims us as his own in baptism, he comes to us in the sacraments, feeding us with his own love and power in the eucharist, tending to our wounds after we have fallen, and lifting us back up with his mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation. What Jesus asks of us might seem impossible, but with God’s grace he can triumph in us.
Let’s open ourselves once again, in this Mass, to all that God in Christ wants to give us.
+ + +
With acknowledgment to the homily of Fr Robert Barron, http://www.wordonfire.org/WOF-Radio/Sermons/Sermon-Archive-for-2013/Sermon-661-The-Awful-Gospel-of-the-Cross.aspx