8 September 2013
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
In a certain American town a college student was told that because of his excellence as a basketball player, with hard work and dedication he could become a famous and rich sportsman. But he amazed his family and friends, not to mention his college coach when he turned his back on a sporting career and chose to become a doctor. He said that he wanted to work with the poor people in his city.
Using the gospel language of today’s gospel he had chosen ‘to hate’ a career as a famous sportsman. We hear Jesus saying to us today in Luke’s gospel that anyone coming to him without hating his father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life cannot be a disciple of his. This sounds shocking to our ears. How could Jesus who spoke so much about love, compassion and forgiveness now be talking about hating and especially hating those closest to us? In order to understand the text properly we must understand that Jesus’ use of the verb ‘to hate’ is a semitism, a way of speaking that was typical of the cultural background of Jesus. At that time the meaning of ‘hating’ would have been the equivalent of or very similar to ‘putting into second place’ or as the modern French bible puts it ‘to prefer’. That is, if one does not prefer me to his parents etc. he cannot be my disciple. This is the real meaning of the text. It means that our relation to Jesus, to God has to be the most important, better than all human relations. Isn’t that going a bit too far? Are we even capable of it? Maybe Jesus is referring to monks and very holy people. So where do you and I fit in?
Once I was visiting a family and the wife was saying to her husband and myself that it was alright for her sister who is an enclosed contemplative nun to be able to give herself to following Jesus completely. They had 4 young children and the wife felt it could not mean her and her husband. She thought they were not called to that kind of discipleship. In fact they were called to be as close disciples of Jesus as her sister the nun was, though obviously in a different way. Being married with children did not give them a lesser vocation, rather a different way of living it out.
To return to the gospel. Whom was Jesus addressing? The gospel says that ‘great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and addressed them’. So it was not only the 12 apostles but a great number of people. We know who these people were from other gospel passages: fishermen, farmers, housewives, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, scribes and Pharisees and all other kinds of people. So it is to this great number of all kinds of people that Jesus was speaking. Therefore, also to us.
This is the Good News of today’s gospel. Each and every one of us is called to be a disciple of Jesus. ‘Carrying the cross’ as Jesus asks of us is another way of speaking of following him. ‘Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way’ –to be on the way of Jesus, to follow him means that it is a lifelong journey. Discipleship is more than a one-time decision. It is a process. It takes time.
Discipleship means more than doing some good things for the Lord –means giving the whole of ourselves to him as he did to us. To be a Christian means we have a goal, we are going some place, we are following Someone. Jesus does not ask the impossible of us. He knows that it takes time to follow closely. We need to learn his ways. Above all we need to depend totally on the help of the Holy Spirit. This is the great gift Jesus promised us before he went back to his Father in heaven.
The two little stories that end today’s gospel are reminding us that it costs to follow Jesus. It is not easy. But if we wish to follow Jesus on this long journey we would not want to be carrying a burden that is too heavy, one that weighs us down and causes us to give up. We are asked to let go of whatever in life attaches us too much to ourselves, our comforts etc.- our status, possessions and so on.
Maybe each one of us might ask. Do I ever sit down and ask myself: am I on the right way? Am I doing the best I can with my talents and gifts? Do I give a helping hand to others needing my help? Do I share what I have with the poor, at least sometimes? Where is my focus – Jesus, others or always myself?
Jesus calls each of us to follow him closely. For a husband or wife, it will be their love and concern for each other and their children as well as for others. For a doctor or nurse, it will be their care of the sick. For teachers, to educate their pupils and students not only in academic subjects but in what it means to help make the world a better place. For priests and religious – to share with others their love for God in faithful, loving service. Jesus calls us to discipleship. He calls us to greatness. He knows we are capable of it despite our sinfulness, limitations and failures. He won’t give up on us. He keeps calling us. He wants disciples to help him? How will we answer his call?
“Lord Jesus, you are the Way. Show us the way to go and, with the help of your Holy Spirit, enable us to follow you closely along this way. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA