5 September 2010
Oliver was 25 years old when he fell in love with an Italian who had come to Ireland to study English. Eventually they decided to get married. But her mother was seriously ill and needed to be looked after. Maria told Oliver that they would have to live in Italy as she needed to take care of her sick mother. She was an only child and her father was dead. It meant Oliver had to give up a good job here and search for one there. He has been living in Italy for the last 15 years, would love to come home to Ireland to live but is unable to do so as Maria’s mother is still alive and needs caring. Because of his love for his wife he is prepared to make sacrifices to be with her and their 2 children.
Using the language of today’s gospel he had chosen ‘to hate’ his family and others. How could Jesus who spoke so much about love, compassion and forgiveness be talking about hating and especially hating those closest to us? This sounds shocking to our ears. In order to understand the text properly we must realise that his use of the verb ‘to hate’ is a ‘Semitic’ way of speaking that was typical of the cultural background of Jesus. Then the meaning of ‘hating’ would have been the equivalent of the verb ‘prefer’ or ‘to love less’ as we might use them today. So to be a true disciple of Jesus means putting him in the first place. It does not stop us loving, caring for, and delighting in our parents, family or friends. It means that our relation to Jesus, to God has to have first place like the man put his wife in the first place. Are we capable of putting Jesus in the first place in our lives?
Jesus had one great goal in life; namely, to carry out the task his father had given him. That’s what he lived for. And he was prepared to pay whatever price was demanded in order to fulfill his goal. It meant leaving home at about 30 years old. He gave up a sure job as a carpenter to take up another way of living. His total commitment to his Father’s will eventually cost him great suffering and a terrible death.
For us too discipleship may be quite costly. We can draw encouragement from the life of the apostles. The gospels show that they struggled at every point to follow Jesus yet he didn’t write them off.
When I see certain families who have an autistic child or a child suffering from cancer or a badly paralysed or mentally handicapped child and their total dedication to looking after them in very demanding circumstances I say to myself ‘there is discipleship of totally committed people’. Some of these may not be Christian or even be believers at all but they certainly fulfill the command of Jesus
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 also 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. It is to this great number of all kinds of people that Jesus was speaking. And to us too.
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 – it means committing 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 him 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 are asked to let go of whatever in life attaches us too much to ourselves, our comforts, our status, possessions and so on.
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 – at least on Jesus at times, on others or always on myself?
Jesus calls each of us to follow him closely. And I am sure you try to live out the demand of Jesus for discipleship. 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 priests and religious – to share with others their love for God in faithful, loving service. Jesus calls us all 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. With the help of your Holy Spirit enable us to be your true disciples as we follow you closely along this way. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA