Jesus says a number of things which are jarring the first time you hear them.
They certainly get our attention, these “hard sayings of Jesus” One of them appears in the Gospel reading for this Sunday: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple”
Let me go on record and say that I do hope you love your families – dad, mom, wife, kids, brothers and sisters. You should care for them. You ought to share your soul’s secrets with them and rejoice in the time you have together. This form of speech, however, which Jesus uses, is meant to provoke reflection on the part of disciples – both new and old. Like many of his other parables and pronouncements he intends to turn things on their head so that we might consider something for the first time:
“Whoever comes to me”, he begins.
When we accept Christ’s call to faith and discipleship we turn a corner. When we accept that call for the first time (or when we renew our commitment to God in the midst of life) we are left changed by the process. Nothing can stay the same. New wine can’t be poured into old wineskins, says Jesus says in another place. Let the dead bury their dead, he says as well. You come and follow me.
I love my family but I cannot be defined by them. One of the unfortunate bits of presumed loyalty we extend to families is when we agree to remain the same as we’ve always been. Our children, above all, hope that we will stay the same. When I move in a new way I will need to “count the cost” which is what Jesus tells us to do next in this Sunday’s reading. Understand, he seems to say, that the new life of the faithful man or woman may be incompatible with the life he or she has led to this point. It is no longer possible to say that they are the person they were across the years, with the same niche place in the family hierarchy and the same place at the table. Don’t sell yourself short. You are a creation of God – a “new creation” in Christ.
Your families might not understand. Families sometimes don’t. The growing faith of one member in a marriage might provoke some soul-searching. The conversations might be difficult at times. Jesus gets our attention with the strong language of ‘hatred’. He wants us to listen and to consider the challenge of loving people who would rather that we stayed the same.