September 4, 2016
Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
There are numerous sayings of Jesus that we like to hear and enjoy quoting; "Love one another," "Do not be afraid", "Peace be with you," "Let the one without sin cast the first stone," "I am the resurrection and the life." The list can go on for some length and we tend to hold onto these sayings to find comfort and inspiration. Verses like these are found on Program covers, greeting cards and holy cards. There are also sayings of Jesus that we might not feel comfortable hearing, and probably don't quote. Two of them are in this Gospel; "If anyone 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." And "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Is Jesus actually calling on us to hate our family, and then insisting that we carry our own cross? How does this go along with "Love one another as I have loved you?"
Like many of the Gospel passages it is important to remember each passage is not a message in itself, each passage is part of the broader message found in each Gospel. In this section of Luke Jesus is giving instructions about the Kingdom of God. We hear the parables of the Mustard Seed, the Yeast, we her of the Narrow Door, the parables of the invited guest who exalted himself and then was humbled by the host, of the Man who gave a great dinner. In the passage today Jesus makes it very clear that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, one must be totally committed to God. Some Scripture Scholars indicate that the use of such a strong word as "hate" was a teaching technique whereas Jesus would get the attention of the listeners by saying something that seemed truly unexpected and uncharacteristic. He then goes on to explain it in such a way so as to lead them to the essence of the teaching. This is true in this passage that begins with the call for total commitment to Christ, and the reality of suffering that can come from this commitment. A part of this reality could be family and friends actually rejecting, if not, hating, someone for abandoning their life-long religion in order to follow Christ.
The basic message from this is that if we are to enter the Kingdom of God, we must put God first in our lives. Some years ago the film, Brian's Song came out and one of the main characters was modeled after the football player, Gale Sayers. He always wore a chain with a large medallion on it and on the medallion was inscribed, "I am third." It was a great conversation starter, people would ask what it meant, since in the eyes of many Gale was number one. He would explain that it described how he lived his life. God was first, his family was second, and he was third. This is a beautiful illustration of the message today. The paradox of putting ourselves third and God first is that by placing God first in our lives, all the other relationships of family and friends will be blessed, and ultimately we will be blessed. Like the wise man planning to build a tower, and the king planning to go into battle, if we take time to plan, we will be successful. Jesus tells us that a successful plan to enter the kingdom of God is to put God first.
Fr. Killian Loch, O.S.B.