Why Is Jesus Being So Strong?
In his homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly helps us understand why Jesus is being so strong in this week’s tough Gospel.
Readings for Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Wisdom 9:13-18
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
- Second Reading: Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17
- Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
The beginning of this Gospel has to be one of the great attention grabbers in all the history of the telling of the story of Jesus.
I don’t know if it upset you, it always upsets me when Jesus says,
“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.”
It’s very strong.
And, of course, the many helpful people who explain this to us try to lessen the force of it. They mention that in Hebrew the opposite of hate is not love, the opposite of hate is “prefer,” that the word is not as strong in the language Jesus is using as it would be if he were saying it in English.
But something bothers me about that, you know, when you take a word and you’re afraid of it and then you try to make it sound nice so everybody can go home happy.
Maybe if we look at the context. Maybe if we look at Jesus.
Maybe if we saw that he was on his way, he was on his way to Jerusalem and he was on his way to undergo incredible suffering, he was on his way to be rejected, he was on his way to have all his friends run away from him, the Roman soldiers crowning him with thorns, laughing at him, nobody to help him, nobody near him.
And he knew this as he walked with his disciples, these little men who follow Jesus.
And the first thing you say, “Why is he so strong?” and I think the first thing is he is talking to himself. He must be resolute. He must be determined. He’s going to have to do it alone.
He came to save the world and he came to save it through pain and sorrow, rejection and everything that his disciples would be frightened of and would never commit themselves to.
They were always looking for the good things, like we pray to God for ice-cream cones and bicycles and all these things when we’re children. And we’re always thinking that to follow Jesus, it means that we get the good stuff, you see, because he himself is full of love and caring. And that’s true.
But he’s looking for something else in his disciples. He’s looking for resolution, detachment from everything, total and complete commitment to his life, because he is going to go through this and he will rise again and he will save the world through his sacrifice of great love.
But what saves the world, what saves the world, is he comes among us and he asks us to make that same commitment: total detachment.
He’s not saying he doesn’t love mothers and fathers and that.
He’s saying, “I have come to save the world and I have come to save it through sacrificial love.
“And it’s the only way to save it. You must sacrifice and love through sacrifice. It’s not a daisy chain. It’s not a happy dance. It’s a commitment that you in your very hearts must make and I am there because you’re making it to me.”
Resolution sometimes is very important.
I’ll tell you a humorous story, but it has a lot of what it means to be determined.
This reporter went to visit a very famous African leader way back in the jungle some place and he was surrounded by his ten advisors. And he was sitting on his throne and the reporter came up to him and he said to him, “How come your ten advisors only have one arm?”
And the mighty chief looked at him and he said, “I set out to build a nation and what did I get? Every time I asked them to advise me they said, ‘On the one hand … And on the other hand …’ So I decided I’d cut one arm off and then we would see whether we could make a nation.”
Now, this was supposed to be funny, so stop looking so serious.
But the truth of it is you get tired. There comes a time in your life when you must take everything seriously. It’s no fooling around. You walk into the valley of darkness.
Faith is like that. Your faith doesn’t come because your mother and father taught you how to believe. It comes from feeling the terrible alternative of walking through life without faith, without hope and without love.
And so what Jesus is saying is, “Whatever stands in your way, whatever stands in your way of following me as we walk together for a great cause to bring God’s love and forgiveness to the whole world, we’re doing that, but you must commit yourself to it. You must commit your heart, you must commit your soul.”
Jesus on the way. Jesus is saying, “All that stands in the way of your embracing whatever brings love, whatever brings forgiveness, whatever brings new hope, whatever brings new faith to people …
“You embrace it with your whole heart and if anything stands in the way and they say, ‘Well maybe next year,’ or ‘Maybe you’re trying too much,’ or ‘Maybe this or maybe that or maybe that,’ you must turn violently against it and walk away.”
I’ll give you one example. It’s close to my heart because my best friend was a wonderful young man and he was not born a Catholic but became a Catholic. (inaudible), wonderful singer. And he decided that he would become a Maryknoll priest. And his father said, “Don’t do that.”
And he entered the seminary. And the time came for ordination. His father said to him, “If you get ordained in that Roman Catholic Church, you’re out of this house and I will never see you again.”
And he was torn. But something deep inside him said, “I must do this.” And he did it. And he did it because he felt that he understood the suffering Jesus and he knew it was the suffering Jesus that was inviting him to come with him into a new world.
I’d like to say there’s a happy ending. The father died never speaking to his son again. And the son has a part of his heart that still longs for his father’s forgiveness.
What Jesus is saying really is this, he is saying,
“I give you my life. You give me yours.
“I give without counting the cost. You give me yours without counting the cost.
“I give you my life to teach you how to love as I love. You give me your life to receive my love and bring it to other people.
“I begin a mission. You continue it.
“But, in the continuing of it, I will never, never, be far from you. I will be with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
Basically, it’s a marriage that he’s talking about. It’s a marriage.
And in a marriage, as you know, when two people get married in the Catholic Church, they give their entire lives to each other. The priest doesn’t marry them, the Church doesn’t marry them, God doesn’t marry them — with free will and consent they give themselves to each other, for richer or poorer, till death do they part.
This is what Jesus is asking his disciples.
Consent is a very important word. Consent means …
And I’ve had about eight marriages in the last three weeks here and everyone stumbles over the word “consent.”
Consent means this: these two people are not asked to give themselves to each other in marriage, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, till death do they part, they are not asked so that if troubles come, they say, “Oh well, that’s the way it is. We’re still married.”
Consent means, “I give my life to you, with all the possibilities and pain and trouble and misunderstandings and all the rest of it, but I give consent to this marriage and consent to this union.”
And what’s the difference? Well, if you give yourself in marital union, tough times come and you complain all the time. But consent does not allow that. Consent says, “Even when the worst times come, I say: ‘Yes!’”
And that’s what consent means. And it’s mentioned three times in the wedding ceremony. “Do you consent?” “Yes!” “Do you consent?” “Yes!” “Do you consent?” “Yes!”
And that is the kind of commitment that Jesus is talking about.
What about if your mother doesn’t like it or your father doesn’t like it or you have trouble with people or this or that?
It doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with them.
And that’s when the word, you know, that began this whole thing: you have to hate your mother, hate your father, hate your brother, hate your sister — because they would take it away from you, not meaning to (inaudible) with your heart.
It just means that don’t stand in the way of what God Himself wants.
And that’s exactly what Jesus is telling his disciples.
Yes, you love your mother. Yes, you love your father. But, in choosing me, you must just choose me and only me.
And now that will raise great feelings. That’s very hard to do, isn’t it? It took me years and years of moving up to it.
But I’ll tell you a nice story. Probably you’ve heard this story. It’s one of my favourite stories and then I’ll end it on this.
It takes courage. It doesn’t take brains, it doesn’t take talent — it takes courage. And you’ve got have courage to make these kind of commitments, marriage commitments, commitments of your word.
And there’s a story: This farmer goes out one day. He lives near a mountain with a sharp cliff.
And he goes out and at the bottom of the cliff he sees a little eagle’s nest. And it fell down, all the way down. And the mother eagle, something happened so she never showed up.
So the poor little eaglet that was in the nest was wounded, so he brought him in and he put him inside with the chickens that he was raising. You know, birds are birds, so he put him with the chickens.
And he fed him and took care of the little eaglet. And the eaglet grew bigger and bigger and bigger, you see.
And finally the man was so happy, the farmer, he looks at him and sees this incredible eagle wing span and he says to the eagle, “Now comes the time.”
So he brings him up to the top of the cliff and he throws him up in the air.
And the eagle plops down on the ground and then he starts hopping around … like a chicken, you see.
And then he tries it again. And then he pleads with him, he said, “You’re an eagle. You were built to soar into the sky and put your face into the wind and travel to the moon.”
And the eagle, all he did was “plop” and then he ran around.
Again and again and again, the farmer tried to get him to …
He said, “I have to bring you back now.” And he brought him back in with the chickens and he put him there.
And he said to him, very sadly he said, “You have the wings of an eagle, but you have the heart of a chicken.”
Now, this is a good story because all of us are like that. We are raised in a kind of an atmosphere where what do we know about eagles soaring, except that God calls us to soar like eagles?
And that’s why it’s important to remember, when Jesus says this, it’s an invitation to soar like an eagle.
And that’s why no one else has the right to say “yes” to the decision when Jesus says, “Come follow me.”