Saturday, September 4, 2010
Can you hear me now?
Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfully made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver who drove by didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted at them, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” All of a sudden they heard a big splash and looked at each other. Then the one holding the sign said, “Maybe it should just say ‘Bridge Out’?” Sometimes the words we choose can be shocking.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is also using some shocking language to get our attention. He 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.” These are jarring words to our ears. Hate our father and mother? What about the Commandment which call us not to hate, but to “Honor your mother and father?” Well, of course, Jesus is not instructing us to hate our families, rather, He’s trying to get us to wake up; He’s trying to shake us up to listen to the full, radical impact of His message of the Kingdom of God. Jesus wants to get our attention and so he says these shocking words. Are we listening?
Our world is obsessed with wealth, competition; it’s full of violence, war, and so much more. We call this the “real” world. And if someone were to suggest that we can live in radical non-violence, love, compassion, and forgiveness, they would probably be called a religious nut. But, Jesus reminded us that the supposedly “real” world is actually an illusion; it is phony; full of false hopes and promises. He calls us to instead be immersed in the new world that he calls so often the Kingdom of God. His strategy? Spiritual shock therapy. Jesus wants to shake us out of our complacency and into a whole new way of thinking, acting, and being.
When I attended World Youth Day a few years ago, there was a group of young people passing out stickers said, “100% Catholic.” We like that sentiment, but how many of us lead lives that are more like 80% Catholic, 50%, or even less? Jesus wants to remind us that we cannot follow Him half way. Discipleship is an all or nothing deal.
And this is the point of His shocking words to us today. In following Jesus, we have to go with Him the whole way. We can’t stop at the preaching and the miracles and leave Him when it comes to the Cross. We’ll never reach resurrection unless we’re along for the whole journey. We have to accept His way of seeing life totally and then put that into practice in the way we live. There cannot be, as is too often the case, a compromise, trying to have our cake and eat it. Jesus tells us that if it is a choice between even our families and living His ways, we must choose His ways. Jesus and His Gospel message have to be the number one priority in our lives.
Most of us follow a lifestyle dictated by our culture and our goals are the goals of the culture and, somewhere on the side, we try to fit in some aspects of Christian living. Too often, we do not want our Christianity to get in the way of our lifestyle. But this is precisely what Jesus is asking of us.
The only status that counts is our relationship with God and how we relate with other people, irrespective of their status in the world. Our real status is measured not by our rank or occupation but by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked at by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them.
That is the meaning of the two parables, which Jesus gives as illustration. “Great crowds” were following Jesus with enthusiasm but were they ready? Did they realize what it really meant to follow Him? If not, they are like the king who goes out to war totally unprepared to deal with the opposing side. They are like a man who started out to build a tower and then ran out of funds or material. The become laughing stocks; inauthentic. If we try to walk with Jesus without being ready to commit to it; we too will miss the joy and happiness of the totally fulfilled life that Jesus is offering us.
Jesus tells us today that to be his disciple is to make every other thing in life – family or wealth, prosperity or health, pleasure or fame – second to Him. He means that on the list of our goals and priorities in life, attaining the kingdom of God must come first and then everything else will follow. It is a matter of life and death. He, and only He, is the way, the truth and the life.
Today’s gospel shows us how absolute and how radical the demands of discipleship are. Following Jesus is much harder than we perhaps thought at first. The Good News is that Jesus recognizes our weaknesses; and still invites us on this journey with Him. Does He have our attention? Are we ready to go with Him?
Let us make the simple, powerful words of St. Francis our own: “Jesus, You are enough for me.” Let us be completely His disciples.
May God give you peace.