23rd Sunday in O.T. (C); September 4, 2016
Wis 9:13-18b Ps 90 Phlm 9-10,12-17 Lk 14:25-33
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
Luke tells us that great crowds were following Jesus; he was a very popular man, a fascinating figure. If Jesus were physically with us today, he’d be all over the Internet, the focus of blogosphere scrutiny. He’d be a YouTube sensation with millions upon millions of views. One reason that the crowds were probably drawn to him is that they hoped to get something out of him because of his healing powers. Sensing this Jesus feels the need to articulate the cost of discipleship.
Listen to Jesus’ words: “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” (Lk 14:26). These words stop us in our tracks, and we want to respond, “Jesus, you surely can’t mean what you’ve just said.” The majority of parents love their children so much that they’d throw themselves under the bus if their child was endangered. And, Jesus wants us to hate our children if we are to follow him! These are extremely harsh words to hear then and now. But, they were probably more difficult to hear then because the Jewish culture was a kinfolk society—the whole society was organized around the family and clan. Loyalty to wife, children, parents was extremely important. Jesus just doesn’t say He wants us to prefer him to them, but he says unless we hate them, we can’t be His disciple. What does our Lord mean?
In a typically exaggerated Jewish way of making a point, I believe Jesus means that we can’t make our family more central than Jesus and his kingdom. We can’t make our beloved spouse or young children the highest value or the center of our life. Jesus is the center of our life: Jesus is the One, because he is Life itself. He is God among us. Brothers, God alone ultimately matters and everything else must find its place around this Ultimate Concern. Yes, even something as important as our family, let alone prison associations, must be of secondary importance.
Do you see how Jesus’ challenge runs counter to our privatized, conventional beliefs? I’ve got all my concerns lined up: parole hearing, what am I going to do once I get released, can I make it on the outside? If a release date is not in the offing due to our punitive prison system, then we continually try to re-arrange the furniture in this prison culture so that I can survive. On top of all of this, one of my many concerns is religion which is o.k. as long as it doesn’t make too many demands. My religious practice is comforting, provides stability, and, hey, offers the promise of eternal life. That’s a good deal, isn’t it?!
Folks, that doesn’t work because it means that we are not following Jesus. If our family, if our prison associations occupy a higher priority amongst our concerns than Jesus, then we are not his follower.
If that wasn’t harsh enough, Jesus takes it further when he says that unless we hate our own life, we cannot be His disciple. Now our life is being turned upside down. Jesus wants us to hate everything we do to enhance our lives. Inside we squirm; is there any wiggle room here? Can’t I follow Jesus on my terms in which I remain in control?
A prayer refrain from the Liturgy of the Hours offers us insight into what Jesus may mean: “Lord, your love is worth more than my physical life.” Sit with that. Does it resonate with you? If so, everything in our lives has got to be kicked out of the central place—even our very life. Are we ready for that kind of commitment? Are we ready for everything to give way for the Kingdom of God?
St. Augustine understood well what Jesus meant when Augustine said, “Love God for his own sake. Love everything else for the sake of God.” Such wisdom! That’s the right perspective; that’s it! We don’t let go of family, friends, ambitions, etc., but we don’t love them for their own sake. Instead we love them as gifts from God. And it is God alone whom we love with all our whole heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength.
Didn’t Jesus put it succinctly when he said, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and the rest will be given to you,” which means the rest of our lives will find their place around our central concern which is Jesus and his Kingdom.
People of God at Folsom Prison, as the saying goes, “It’s time to fish or cut bait.” Jesus’ invitation to follow him will always take total dedication, trusting in him and entrusting ourselves to him. Let us pray for the grace to be His disciple and follow him unconditionally.