23d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 4, 2016
Luke 14: 25-33
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“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” (Luke 14: 25).
We’ve heard some strange language, even harsh and alienating language, from Jesus in the gospels of recent Sundays. Today the one who preaches universal love, even for enemies, for people who do us harm, tells us we have to be ready to hate our own families! The one who commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves tells us we have to hate even our own lives!
|Christ Carrying His Cross (Titian)|
A couple of considerations are in order. 1st, at the end of ch. 9 of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (v. 51); i.e., he set out with resolution, with determination. Now we’re in ch. 14. Everything we’ve been hearing from Jesus since the 13th Sunday of O.T., 10 weeks ago, has been spoken as he journeys, with full awareness, toward his passion and death. The 1st line of today’s passage is, “Great crowds were traveling with Jesus.” When he tells us we have to carry our own crosses and come after him, following in his footsteps, he knows already that he’s walking toward crucifixion; he’s already twice predicted his passion, death, and resurrection. If we’re with him on our life’s journey, the journey we hope will end in eternal life, we, too, have 1st to be crucified—at least metaphorically.
2d, Jesus is a 1st-century Jew, and he uses the language of a 1st-century Jew, which was Aramaic, part of the Semitic family of languages like Arabic and modern Hebrew. Semitic languages use a lot of exaggeration for emphasis, like the image of a camel squeezing thru the eye of a needle. Today’s language of “hating” one’s family and renouncing “all” one’s possessions is another example of such emphasis.
Jesus’ words today—“hating” one’s family, taking up the cross, renouncing possessions, and 2 very short parables about building a tower and facing an enemy army—all together make one emphatic point. If we wish to be Jesus’ disciples, we have to be all in for him, totally committed. Does Lovie Smith want players who show up for practice when they feel like it? Paraphrasing Will’s song to Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, “With Jesus it’s all or nothing, and nothing else will do.”
Thomas More and his daughter Margaret
at the Tower of London
If, like Thomas More or Thomas Aquinas or Katherine Tekakwitha, you have to choose between Jesus Christ and your family, you choose Jesus. If, like so many Christians in Iraq and Syria in recent years, you have to choose between your home, your property, your livelihood, even your life, and Jesus Christ, you choose Jesus.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples there were dwelling places for them in heaven (cf. John 14:2). (In the old Rheims translation, they were called “mansions”; that sounds so much better!) What’s the cost of building that mansion for our eternal habitation? Calculate the cost, as someone building a tower had better figure out his costs before he starts. In another place—in fact, it’s right after Jesus starts on his journey toward Jerusalem—he advises his followers of the cost of coming along with him; he warns us not to put our hand to the plow and then turn back, because if we do we’re not “fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
We regard our 1st responders as heroes because they know the potential cost of the work they do, the service they provide; and like the heroes of the NYPD and FDNY on 9/11, they’re ready to pay that price. In one of his eloquent Revolutionary War pamphlets, Thomas Paine decried the “summer soldier and sunshine patriot” who shrinks from his country’s service during the crisis, during “these times that try men’s souls.” Before you start on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus, before you accept Baptism, before you come to the Eucharistic banquet to commune intimately with Christ, make a firm decision that you will complete the journey, you will not shrink from serving your Lord, whatever it may cost you.
We are engaged in an epic battle, not against an earthly army but against a demonic one—as we’re reminded every time we pray the St. Michael prayer. Two weeks ago, Washington, D.C., pastor and blogger Msgr. Charles Pope posted “Comfort Catholicism Has to Go; It Is Time to Prepare for Persecution,” with a subheading that begins, “We are at war for our own souls and the souls of people we love.” An illustration with his post shows a huddle of a couple of dozen Christians and a lion in the foreground of a Roman arena, and behind them a dozen or so crucified victims.
The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer
Msgr. Pope challenges us to embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, to proclaim it, and to live it even in the face of cultural, political, and legal hostility. He’s not talking about the Middle East. He’s talking about here. He tells us:
It is time to prepare for persecutions that will get bolder by the month and year. The dark movements that marched in under the banners of tolerance never meant it. And having increasingly gained power, they are seeking to criminalize anyone who resists their vision. No tolerance for us. Religious liberty is eroding, and compulsory compliance is already here.
He wonders how many bishops and priests, much less laity, are ready to say to the civil authorities, “We will not comply with evil laws or cooperate with evil.”
Msgr. Pope’s talking about laws and judicial rulings that aim to force the disciples of Jesus and our institutions—our schools, our hospitals, our other social services—to employ people who teach and act against what we stand for. For instance, if I’m not mistaken, here in Illinois the Church can no longer run adoption services because we refuse to place children with people who model an immoral lifestyle. He’s talking about rulings that aim to force us to subsidize immoral practices or even to actively engage in them, e.g., to compel medical residents to learn abortion techniques, nurses to take part in abortions, Catholic hospitals to give abortion referrals if not provide the procedure itself, individually or family-owned pharmacies to provide birth control; rulings to force us to give at least the public appearance of endorsing activity that is morally repugnant, e.g., by compelling photographers, bakers, and florists to take part in gay weddings. Can you imagine what would happen if a court ordered an Afro-American baker to prepare a cake for a Klan rally?
But even in our day-to-day lives, following Jesus has a cost. It demands faithfulness in our marriages, chastity in our relationships and even in our thoughts, attentiveness to the poor, obedience to parents, respect for people who irritate us or with whom we disagree, diligent work in school or our employment, patience when we’re driving (and no endangering others by texting while doing it, much less drinking before doing it), self-restraint when we get angry or upset, resisting the urge to tell tales about our neighbors and coworkers, telling the truth to those who are entitled to the truth, and much more.
What’s the mansion in God’s kingdom worth to us? What price are we willing to pay? Are we willing to renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty show and “the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over [us]”? This is the crisis, the decision point, of every life. And each of us has to answer for himself or herself.
 National Catholic Register on-line, Aug. 22, 2016: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/msgr-pope/.
 Baptismal liturgy.