Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel from St. Luke (14: 25-33) are pretty stark: “ whoever comes to me and does not hate their father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even their life itself cannot be my disciple.” He doesn’t leave room for discussion; he doesn’t back away from this. Putting God first is non-negotiable. . Jesus uses the word ‘hate’ to illustrate that when it comes to God, we cannot love anyone or anything more than God if we expect or hope to spend eternity in heaven.
To enter completely into relationship with God, we cannot put anything else first: God must be first – our possessions: our jobs and our social positions; even our family and friends didn’t create and sanctify and redeem us: God did; and He continues to do that through the action of His Holy Spirit, through the sacrifice of Jesus; our response is to be detached from anything that would prevent us entering into that relationship. A relationship where God puts us above all creation – more important to Him than the angels and everything else in the universe: so important that he invites us into the most intimate relationship of love; the relationship of being His own children.
If we had a condition of employment that said ”you have to put your job ahead of your immortal soul,” or perhaps a club membership that said,” give up faith in God and turn your attention only to the club activities” how would we respond? Wouldn’t we find that kind of an expectation very wrong?
If we had family members or friends who insisted, “you must put me ahead of God in your life.” Wouldn’t we find that equally dysfunctional?
Yet, we have a world and a society that pushes the notion that love and worship of God, and obedience to His laws and commandments are counterproductive; even an infringement on our rights – and this is the big lie of the new ‘atheism’ which is rapidly spreading through the public forum in our own country. Even something as basic as the “Ten Commandments” is decried as ‘restrictive’ or ‘backward’ or even ‘discriminatory’. This thinking takes something which is totally good ( commandments from God to help us grow and keep in closer relationship with Him and others) and turns it on its head; turning it, at least in the eyes of our society, from a positive into a negative:
The sixth commandment; you shall not commit adultery – society sees that as an infringement on the rights of ‘consenting adults’
The third commandment; you shall keep the Lord’s day holy – that’s pretty relative now, because we have all of these activities that are now scheduled on Sunday – no time for church or worship: well these activities don’t schedule themselves – how long would they be scheduled on Sunday mornings if families insisted that they would only participate later in the day on not on Sunday mornings at all?
The fifth commandment; you shall not kill – well this one seems negotiable too, particularly when it comes to abortion and euthanasia; the lifestyle and choices of one or two individuals seem to be the main factor in determining whether another person even gets to live.
In all of these examples and more, we show how we love God less and less as a society: A society that doesn’t want to move closer to God because it means putting the other ahead of ourselves; it also means expressing love in its truest sense.
Humans over the past decades have really changed the meaning of a lot of words, and perhaps none more than the word ‘love’. Love has come to mean romance or ‘feelings’ or an emotional response to a specific stimulus; physical attraction that might last two years, two months, or only 24 hours.
But real, true love is not a feeling or emotional response. True love is a conscious decision; a conscious choice. Sept. 5th was the feast day of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. There was no one in the 20th century who more visibly illustrated this conscious choice of love than this dynamic woman. Who would think in the 20th century that love would be encountered in the filth and squalor of the slums of Calcutta; or that love would be revealed in the diseased bodies of lepers; or that love would be inspired in gathering the dying up off of the sides of roads or in the middle of a crowded street?
But that is exactly where Blessed Teresa found God; she discovered and encouraged others to discover Jesus in ‘the distressing disguise’ of the poor.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us in a rather back-handed way, to love God above all else. But it is not a one-sided affair; it is not, as atheists would have us believe, that we express a love to a non-existent ideal, or that we express love and devotion to a kind of cosmic ‘Santa Claus’ ; it is a return of love to the One who loves us above everything that He created. He loved us enough to give up everything for us; His divinity in taking on our humanity; His only Son in exchange for our reconciliation with Him; whenever we consider that we might express love for a God who did all of that for us, all we have to do is look upon the crucifix – to contemplate the Holy Eucharist as we share Christ’s Body and Blood- to hear God saying in these acts, “I love you too”.
Although his words in this Gospel are stark and shocking, there is nothing here that Jesus did not live out by example; as a human being he put everything, even His own divinity secondary to His love of the Father, including His own life; this is what he says it means to be a true disciple; and that sounds pretty daunting.
Those who would be His disciples must take up their cross daily and ‘follow’ Him. He is not suggesting we take up our cares and sufferings and hurts and rejection by the world and wander along on our own; He leads by His own example; He is not asking us to do anything that He has not been willing to do Himself; He says follow me – He leads the way, making the path for us; uniting our experiences with His own. He brings us along to the Father, uniting in love to God, who is love, the creatures that His love has made. We have a choice to place our own desires or feelings or preferences above God; or to place God above all else in our lives
But He won’t force us; He invites us to accept that the only way to truly enter into His life is to follow Jesus’ example of total, selfless love; but it is not negotiable – we either accept it, or we don’t. But before we make that choice, we need to remember that God loves each of us unconditionally – and that too is non-negotiable.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!