Our first response to the Gospel today may be; “Did I hear Jesus correctly? Am I supposed to hate my family to be a Disciple of Christ?” Let’s take a step back before trying to move forward. We all know that through our Baptism we are called to be Disciples of Christ. We know that this call requires commitment and sacrifice. But we need to ask ourselves what is actually required of us. Simply put, everything.
In today’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t hold any punches. He gets right to the point with some very strong language on who cannot be His disciple. We have heard Jesus say before that we must love our enemies as a Disciple of Christ. But today He also says we must hate our family. It sounds like He is saying to Love those that hate us but also hate those that love us. How many people hearing these words from Jesus back in His time must have walked away saying that He was crazy, hating my family makes no sense.
Looking at the surface we would have a hard time not coming to the same conclusion. Jesus mentions three times in the Gospel today how we could fall short of being His disciple. In His first example He said we must hate our father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters. We are to hate our family, our close loved ones and even our own life. In His second example He tells us that we must carry our own cross and come after Him. In the third example He says we must renounce all our possessions, for if not, we cannot be His disciple. How do we make any sense of what He is saying?
To put this in perspective we are of course supposed to take care for our families and ourselves, not neglect them. We are to get help if our crosses in life are overwhelming, not just grin and bear them. We also are not required to live in poverty, but should share our good fortune with those in need. The clarifying point is when Jesus said at the end of this Gospel that we must give up all of our possessions. What is key to the meaning of this statement is what we consider personal possessions. If we consider family members a possession, we must let go of that way of thinking.
Think of it this way. Do we possess our children? No, through Baptism we claim them for Christ. They are a gift from God that we are entrusted with. Our job as parents is to prepare them for life so that they can leave the family nest, to love them unconditionally and guide them to a deep personal relationship as Disciples of Christ. We were made in the image of God and God has no need for possessions. He does not possess us, His children, just as we do not possess our children. He gives all He has away, everything, all His love for He is love. We see this in Jesus in His self-sacrifice on the cross, and through Jesus we see God.
The underlying question in this Gospel is where do our loyalties lie? As an example, if you were called to religious life and your family did not approve, who would you choose, family or God? Like the examples in the Gospel of constructing a tower or going into battle, life is filled with choices. How do we prepare for their outcome? Do we partner with God in making those choices? What role does He play in our life’s plans? God should be our foundation, the source of our strength to live His call to discipleship.
Would you say that deep down you are really happy? Maybe you are but we may jump to say “yes” because to answer “no” sounds like something is wrong with us. By happy I am referring to being deeply content. Have you ever said to yourself, I will be happy when I “Fill in the blank”? Is it, when you get that big job, when you buy the house you always wanted, when you retire, etc.? We are many times waiting for something to happen to meet our happiness goal. When I achieve these things, then I will be truly happy. We all can easily fall into this trap.
What if I told you that right now, you have everything right in front of you to be happy, to be content? That is what Jesus is telling us. God is with you always. You already have all you need. Him. Don’t get lost in the things of this world. You can’t take them with you so why chase them, don’t let them or anything from this earthly plane keep you from fulfilling your call to discipleship, even if that means going against family wishes or expectations. Our happiness is in giving all of ourselves in service to God, for the sake of love, for God is love. Without commitment and sacrifice we cannot see the needs of others, we cannot see the path to true happiness.
In Mark 9:35 Jesus said. “…If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” When you are the servant of all, then you will find true happiness for you will no longer be attached to earthly possessions but will be living in the light of Christ.
So what are we waiting for? What is stopping us from being happy and content with our lives? Jesus is telling us we have all we need right now, right in front of us. Embrace the self-sacrificing gift of love. Embrace the call of Jesus to love unconditionally. Reach out to those in need expecting nothing in return. Don’t be concerned with what naysayers think of you, just be the shining light of Christ in all you do, and watch how many lives the love of Christ touches that you were a part of.
In John 15:12, 13 Jesus states: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” What does being a disciple of Christ cost you? Everything. There is no greater love, no greater joy, then to give all of yourself to the service of Christ, to love everyone unconditionally and bring the love of Christ to all those you meet throughout your life. This is the way of life all Disciples of Christ are called to, the path of commitment and sacrifice, the path to peace, joy and true happiness.