The National Catholic Review

The Gospel reading for the Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Luke 14:25-37, is one of those passages that I just ache to cut down to size, to make certain that it says something more palatable, easier to handle, than what it seems to be saying.  Jesus speaks to a crowd: “now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (14:25-26 NRSV). Hate your family? Hate life itself?  In what way do these teachings agree with the command to honor your parents or God’s desire that we share in the goodness of creation? It is possible to deal with the word “hate” in a reasonable manner; most scholars understand that the use of hate indicates a comparative, along the lines of saying, “you must love me more than father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.” Fair enough, but it does not seem to leave us on easy street: Jesus demands our allegiance, beyond that given to family and even this good life. If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, then you have to be all in. Where the demands of the goods of this life, including family, conflict with the commands of Jesus and his teachings, Jesus comes first. This is not a soft saying, even if we soften the meaning of “hate.”

The teachings that follow are also fascinating, though, and I think often lost in the first two verses, which always spin my head as I seek an escape clause for true discipleship. Jesus gives a couple of examples to the crowds following him, at least quasi-disciples or wannabe-disciples at this point. He tells the crowds that they must be prepared to “carry the cross,” which even if the followers did not understand in light of  the implications for Jesus himself at this point would have understand in the context of the nature of crucifixion in general. A disciple of Jesus would have to give up everything to follow him. The next two examples, though, I think, pertain more to Jesus himself than to his followers, that is, I think he is telling them why it is essential that he have disciples willing to give up everything.

He gives the example of a person who builds a tower, but runs out of money when the foundation is complete; it is necessary to calculate the full cost in advance to know whether you can finish your task, for if you fall short you will be subject to ridicule. In the same way, a king going into battle must know whether his army of 10,000 can do battle with an army of 20,000; if they cannot the king will sue for terms of peace. These examples might be applied to the possible disciples, to have them search themselves to see if they are prepared to give everything up, but I think that they could easily apply to the master-builder or the king, who must know that as he builds and as he leads that each disciple is in for the long haul. He cannot build the kingdom of God or fight the powers of destruction without followers who will give all to the task at hand.

The section ends with this saying of Jesus: “so therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (14:33). I know that “possessions” might mean different things in different contexts to different people. In Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, the wealthy developer Tom White tells Paul Farmer that he would like to come to Haiti as a missionary, but Farmer’s medical work is being funded through Partners in Health which in turn was funded to a large degree by Tom White. Farmer says to White, “in your case that would be a sin.” The issue is not so much that we are all called to live in poverty, by throwing our possessions, like St. Francis, out the window or retreating to the desert, like St. Anthony, but that all of our possessions, our talents, our heart, our being, are ready to build and willing to do battle for the only kingdom that matters. I am not certain how well or how often I am able to meet these demands because as simple as they are, they are not easy.

 John W. Martens

Comments

Igor Driker | 9/7/2010 - 4:14pm
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John Stabeno | 9/7/2010 - 6:33am
This was not easy to get around this weekend and I struggled with it all week. Looking ahead to Sept. 11 and the images that will visit us preceding it, I drew upon those individuals who phoned their loved ones about loving them but then went up in the buildings to save others first. Many of these individuals never made it home to their loved ones be we hear courageous stories from survivors about how they heard a voice or a door was moved by someone who was going through the building floor by floor.
Truly, as their family members deal with their loss, they have to sit back at some point as say, "Why didn't he just leave the building like everyone else? Didn't he want to be with and the kids? Did he love those people more? And we can apply this also to the individuals on flight 93.
They accomplished heroic acts on that day. And as one group of "martyrs" were flying their planes into building to show their love for their god, others climbed up collapsing stairs to carry on the mission of their God . . . "no love hath one greater than to lay down his life for his friends." They made me proud that although the suicide bombers martyred themselves to destroy people, many on the ground gave their lives to save strangers' lives, despite how hurt, sad, and angry their own family may have been that they never came home that day, we remember the song from the '70's, "Billy, Don't Be a Hero."

David, I must say, I love your comment and find it very appropriate in this day and age. You have always managed to impress me.
david power | 9/5/2010 - 4:55pm
I heard a great sermon by a Jesuit in Rome about this part of the Gospel. I cannot do justice to how he spoke but it was incredible how he explained that Jesus puts himself in the centre of our affections.Contrast this with the actions of those who put Mother Church above the Truth.Even the very highest would prefer the comfort of all the Church has to offer to the pain and salve that is the truth.The personal aspect is something very beautiful and that Jesus says that He is our destiny.We have been given a masterclass in the art of retaining possession by the Vatican lately. Paul criticized Peter "to his face" but now 2000 years later we are told that a Cardinal does not have the right to criticize another cardinal.This is not a Christian teaching.It is Romanita!!!Dressed up in Christian clothes. St Ignatius despite his faults was man of God nobody could doubt that  and he put Jesus above all.I always wonder why he never received the final blessing from the Pope.In hagiography it was laid at the door of his secretary but I believe really Ignatius had all the blessing he needed.