Christianity – as commonly confessed by many so-called adherents – is, above all, a religion of love: for neighbour, and even enemies; and yet in our Gospel reading today we have our Blessed Lord directly addressing His past and present followers:
If any one 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.
That apparent contradiction is surely the sign and measure of our alienation from Him!
Christians of all sorts search around anxiously these days for more people in Church, and, in that respect, regard themselves as being motivated by the Christian spirit of evangelization. And yet, again, Our Blessed Lord was not, apparently, over-pleased by the fact that ‘Great crowds were travelling with Him’, for we are told that:
He turned and addressed them: ‘Whoever does not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
Why such a difference between Jesus and modern versions of Christianity?
And there we have a partial answer to the question above, ‘Why such a difference ...?’ which I shall now try to develop.
Too many nominal Christians and pseudo-Catholics these days want and pretend to walk with Him before they have learned to walk behind Him, before they have sought to learn His ways and preferences. They begin by emphasizing their heart’s passing, urgent, affections to the detriment of real and personal commitment; and they imagine they can love without adapting to the one they ‘love’, without learning how to change themselves so that their ‘commitment’ and ‘love’ might be acceptable. This attitude of presumed personal worthiness is widespread in modern western society: whatever anyone does – provided it is within the law of the land – is fine, if they want to do it that way; whoever, whatever, people think they are or want to become is right for them, again so long as it is ‘politically correct’. No other responses to such personal positions are acceptable in our modern society.
Of course, such an attitude is not the Catholic and Christian ethos at all. Nevertheless, some -- always too many -- prelates and leaders have been tempted and tainted by such wide-spread ideas, and thus misled, they have begun to conjure up a modern Jesus no longer necessarily based on the Gospel picture, a Jesus more adapted to present popular attitudes and aspirations, desires and hopes. For that end they tend to evoke and promote-- contrary to Jesus’ Own express example in today’s Gospel reading and frequently elsewhere -- disciples characterised by excitement and emotion, sometimes clap-happy and, of course, infant-hugging, and they regard numbers as a sure sign and measure of success. They delight most of all in prominently-active members of the Church society, rather than in humble disciples of Jesus who want above all to learn how to rightly obey and faithfully follow Him wherever He -- by His Most Holy Spirit given to His Church and bestowed on them by His Church -- might lead them, along the way of self-sacrifice for personal love of Him.
Looking back again at the Gospel account, why did our Lord use such an emotive and, dare I say it, ‘objectionable’ word as ‘hate’?
As you probably know, ‘hate’ in that context means ‘put in second place’; and its objectionable connotations are useful because Jesus wanted to strongly -- very strongly indeed – to emphasize the fact that God must always come first; parents, family, even self, always second, never before God. However, we should notice too that Jesus understood such ‘hatred’ to be a cross -- no secret joy or satisfaction -- for human nature; and part, perhaps indeed the essential part, of that cross He immediately went on to refer to when He added, ‘Whoever does not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.’
Jesus once said (Matthew 23:15) to some Pharisees:
You cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves,
and that should be borne in mind by us today, lest our modern zeal makes new converts twice as superficial in their Catholicism, Christianity, and discipleship as too many of us have long been.
Our Blessed Lord summed up His thoughts in these few words:
Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be My disciple.
St. Bede gives us great help to rightly understand these words, for he distinguishes clearly between those called to ‘leave behind, relinquish’ all possessions, and those here called to ‘renounce’ such possessions: that is, those called to take great care that they do not allow themselves to be possessed by their possessions.
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’; and ‘Whoever does not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple’ seem to refer to personal bonds of love on the one hand and to our instinctive rejection of suffering on the other, and here Jesus’ words were soon to be backed up by His own Personal example and experience whereby they have acquired a most touching intensity of significance and depth of meaning for us. And as, in our Gospel reading, Jesus looked round to see the crowd excitedly travelling with Him, He would appear to have foreseen what lay ahead of Him and His words were penetrated through and through with that total love and commitment which would lead Him most lovingly to leave His mother a lonely widow in Israel, and take upon Himself the horrible pain and total ignominy of the Cross:
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. Whoever does not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
The awareness of His Passion and Death was always with Jesus, close to the surface, never to be ignored or disdained, because He needed to prepare Himself for Satan’s final assault and thus to fulfil His Own longing to give the ultimate expression to His love for His Father and for us when the opportunity came. Therefore, the crowds light-heartedly travelling along with Him this day stirred His pity and sorrow for their incomprehension of what was truly involved, as would James and John later on stir Him to a similar response:
‘Teacher, grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.’ Jesus answered them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptised with?’ (Mark 10: 35-38)
Scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven who can search them out?
That is the only way modern excitement and presumption of worthiness can become acceptable love for Jesus, if it learns about Him from Mother Church and comes to believe that He is from God, come among men to share God’s truth and bring God’s salvation for all those humble enough in heart and mind to yield themselves to the guidance of His Most Holy Spirit with quiet and patient confidence for the coming of His Kingdom.