Sunday, 5 September 2010
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
What does it mean to “hate” my “father, mother, [...] brothers, sisters, yes and [my] own life too”?(Lk 14:25)
This same Jesus who said this also told me that I must love my neighbour, even love my enemy. And, the 4th of the Ten Old Testament Commandments, that Jesus Himself reiterated (Lk 18:20), commands that I love my “father and mother”. So, why does He here say I must “hate” them?
Well, part of the reason Jesus says "hate" concerns Hebrew grammar: At a grammatical level, Hebrew, the language of the ancient Jews, lacked the ability to form superlative or comparative forms in the same way that we can in English. So, unable to say that we must love Jesus “the most” or “more”, Jesus says this, Jesus expresses the superlative, by saying that we must “hate” everything but Him. (see weblink below)
But, grammatical points aside:
This statement by the Lord is teaching us a pivotally important truth: we must have nothing that we put before Him. This truth has many consequences, for one thing: If we do not love Him properly, then the entire edifice of love of others will be a building built on a faulty foundation.
Let me give the example of the love of friendship. I have many friends, people whose company I enjoy, people I feel a ready and immediate affection for. But enjoying their company is not the same thing as loving them: loving involves the gift of self to another, the sacrifice of self in the service of the needs of another –and this is the type of love that there must be in a true friendship, or in any true loving relationship.
If I only love someone for what they give to me then I do not actually love them -I just enjoy using them.
In contrast, the best foundation to build my love of someone on is the love of the Lord Jesus. If I seek to love someone as Christ loves him, BECAUSE Christ loves him, THEN I will love him in the most perfect way possible. But this means that I must love Christ first and foremost. And, and this is important: if I want to love my “father and mother” I must want to love God more than I love my “father and mother”. If my parents, or anyone else, puts themselves between me and the love of God then they place me in a false conflict, and TRUE authentic love of them will require me to put God first.
The Lord Jesus must come first. This is half of the message of today’s Gospel. The other half of that message is that putting Jesus first is hard, a commitment, a sacrifice.
It is so difficult that before seeking to follow Him, He says that we must contemplate the cost and decide whether we will go through with it. Like the man who didn’t finish building the tower because he lacked the money, or the king who couldn’t fight his enemy because his army was too small, we can often fail to truly follow Christ because we haven’t thought through what it means to put Him first, we haven’t thought through the fact that following Him means “carrying [my] cross”(Lk 14:27).
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us three simple examples of things we can love in a way that prevents us from following Him: worldly possessions, comfort (unwillingness to carry my cross), and family.
All of these things can and should be loved, but each loved in a way that is proper to them, not in a way that makes them rivals to loving God.
If I love any of them more than I love God then I will not love them properly, and, I will do a disservice to God, the Lord and Creator –who deserves to be put first.
Whereas, if I love God first then I will order my love so that I can enjoy possessions and comfort while not letting them become a pursuit that makes me unwilling to carry my cross, and, if I love God first, then I will love my neighbour and my family with that Divine love that is purer and greater than the love I could possibly hope to give them myself.
The grammatical comment noted above about “hating” father or mother etc is well expressed on the following website:
“Hebrew grammar doesn’t have a comparative form or superlative form of adjectives and adverbs. In English we say, "Apple pie is good; apple pie with ice-cream is better". Lacking a comparative Hebrew says, "Apple pie with ice-cream is good; apple pie without ice-cream is terrible". Now when we come to express the idea that we ought to love God more than we love anything or anyone else, that our love for God ought to be greater than our love given elsewhere, Hebrew says we ought to love the one and hate the other. Because Jesus is Hebrew, thoroughly Hebrew, he says that to become his disciple we must hate parents, spouse and children. (Luke 14:26) He means that compared to him all earthly ties come second. However important our bond with other people, none is as important as our bond with him.” http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/Sermons/hatred.htm