Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year. Fr Irenaeus Vincent preaches on some of the more difficult sayings of Jesus.
My dear friends, if someone says or does something that is seemingly repulsive, that should not be the end of the story. It is usually more beneficial to find out the reason behind their supposedly repulsive actions or words. I guess that is why we have lawyers, high court judges and psychiatrists.
Luke’s gospel, from the very beginning, presents a Jesus who seems to have had a passion for making repulsive statements. My favourite is when Jesus goes into the synagogue to present his manifesto, saying:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. (Lk 4:18)
I read that the congregation were all lapping it up, until Jesus spoiled it by saying,
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing… (Lk 4:21ff.)
The poor chap nearly ended his career before he even began. It is recorded that they sought to teach him a lesson by throwing him headlong down the hill.
In today’s gospel Jesus is at it again. Great crowds are accompanying him and he chooses to turn around and tell them the following:
If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.
If Jesus were to be taken before a high court judge with specific responsibility for citizens who cannot control their tongues, Jesus – having no need of a lawyer, since he has been anointed with the Spirit and has his Father’s backing – might well explain to the judge that he spoke like this for two reasons.
First, Jesus would explain that the reason he spoke this language of ‘hate’ was because he is like his Father, for he is jealous. In the Book of Exodus, God explains to Moses that the reason that he, Moses, had been given the commandments is because he, God, is a jealous God (Exo 20:14).
The Father and the Son are not jealous because they have serious problems and desperately need our attention. They are jealous because they are working for our benefit through the Holy Spirit, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. In return, they expect us to act as though we appreciate their presence in our lives.
Secondly, Jesus would explain that he spoke this language of ‘hatred’ against one’s family, because he is a man who likes to see people make preferences in life. Jesus wants us to prefer him to our parents and family and friends. Jesus also wants us to prefer him to all things of this world that might lead us to be indifferent to building up a civilization where the peace of Christ reigns. I would not be surprised if the case against Jesus were to be dismissed.
Yet, as we look back, Jesus by his actions and words had in general proved to be a man of peace, which he even left to us as a gift along with the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:25-27). So whatever repulsive action or words we encounter this week, let us be careful how we respond and how we react, for it may reveal the preferences we are making or not making in our Christian lives.