The Gospel proclaimed at Mass on Sunday, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, offered quite a challenge!
Christians are supposed to love. Indeed it is our understanding that all people are created in love and for love.
It is from love that we have the opportunty to learn wholeness and holiness. And yet Jesus challenges those who follow him: unless you hate family, and self, you cannot be disciple.
Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. ‘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. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’
Jesus regularly uses the semitic rhetorical device of exaggeration. We ought to feel free to consider his use of ‘hate’ in this sense. We cannot remain in the same, presumed, relationship with family as previously, not if we are to be his disciple. Family in his culture was even more important than now.
Now we have all sorts of freedom for ‘making our own way in the world. But, in Jesus’ day, family essentially determined who one was and what one did. And it is surely this that Jesus urges us to detach ourselves from. Detach ourselves so that we can live as a child of the Father, and a brother or a sister to all humankind, not only ‘one’s own family’.
Statue on Liverpool’s waterfront memorialising migrants. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.