Sometimes it is healthy to sit down and calculate the costs, do some estimates. In Luke chapter 14, Jesus invites us to do just that : do some stock-taking of our lives.. And he suggests three areas which we have to take into consideration - our affections and he comes out with this baffling, shocking word 'hate your relatives and your own life'; the events which cause us pain and he tells us to pack them on our shoulders, "carry the cross"; and then he touches on possessions, our belongings and says "get rid of them" because possessions can become a burden. Let us stop on the first one - hate, because this word coming from the mouth of Jesus may sound strange to some of us. What does Jesus Christ really mean? What is the good news about this?
Are they right?
Let us see. Many have heard of Sir Thomas More, the High Lord Chancellor of England at the time of King Henry VIII. There was even a film years ago on him called 'A Man for All Seasons'. As you know he stuck out his neck defending the Papacy against the King's intention to divorce his wife Catherine and marry Ann Boleyn and was beheaded.
During the four months he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, there is a small incident which I find highly significant. His wife, Alice, came to visit him, trying to convince him to be practical about the whole issue in order to avoid certain death. After all he had a family and five children. The dialogue which followed is remarkable:
"If I do what you say, how many more years do I think I shall live and enjoy the favor of the king?"
"Well, thirty, forty years more", she answered to her 57-year old Thomas.
"And do you think", replied calmly her husband, "that for so few years I should lose eternity for ever? And for the favors of a king I should lose the grace of God?"
Alice must have understood the point because she never spoke with him on this anymore.
Following his conscience meant leaving his wife a widow, and five children orphans. Did they suffer? Yes they did. Their great house at Chelsea was looted and confiscated. Cromwell, the new chancellor, came down to steal its library. More's wife, Alice, was reduced to poverty having to sell everything of value that she could, including her gowns to pay for her husband's maintenance in the Tower.
Was he right? It all depends, I suppose on what you think is right, on how important the Gospel and its values are important for you!
Many times in life, we have to face the same choice. A friend of mine, a mother of five children, had to make a very clear option between her husband who was insisting that she ties her tubes to avoid further pregnancies or follow her conscience which told her to remain open to life. She preferred not to tie her tubes. Was she right?
A couple, I know very well, always have to pass agonizing moments every time they have a family gathering like an anniversary, birthday party or thanksgiving at their own home. Their daughter left her own family to shack up with this other man. She always insists to bring her boyfriend with her for these family occasions, because he is 'a part of my life'. Her parents lovingly but clearly explain over and over again that they cannot possibly allow this because it would mean condoning an irregular situation which goes against everything they believe in. She is living in sin and sin destroys and this is the only way to get the message across. Are they right?
In front of such a clear statement as "Hate your father, mother, husband, wife, children", we run the risk of saying: I don't understand anything. How is it that this God who is good talks about hating? As usual Jesus is trying to help us.
He knows that one of the main roots of our sufferings is that we were never loved adequately. This is what makes us sick, neurotic, touchy. We were always been loved conditionally : do this and I shall love you. And a conditional love is not love. It is simply a disguised selfishness. My parents said : be good and we shall love you. At school they told me : get good marks and we shall love you. At work they told me : do your job well and we shall love you. In marriage, the husband says : be pleasant and I shall love you. The wife says : be caring, be faithful and I shall love you. The kids tell the parents : be reasonable and we shall love you.
In this kind of love what we really love is ourselves. In being faithful, my husband gives ME security. In being smart, the children build ME. In being caring, my wife makes ME happy. We try to play the game but we suffer immensely.
Now, imagine just for a moment, that you meet someone who loves you for what you are, who does not expect anything from you. Someone who keeps loving you even if you been mean to him. This kind of love will heal you because it gives you the possibility to be yourself! This is what God wanted to show us on the Cross. Even if you kill me my only son, I shall keep loving you. Imagine killing a child of someone! Outrageous! Shocking! This is what we did and God did not take away his gifts from us. He kept lavishing us with his largess!
If what made us sick was the egoistic love of others, what heals us is a love which is not egoistic, a love which understands everything, excuses everything, believes everything, forgives everything, bears everything. This is the Love which has healed me!
Jesus Christ is telling us : Hate this sickness which is in you and love the cure which can heal you and others. Let this Jesus Christ touch you! So that you can receive the healing power of this new love which comes from HIM. Then you can really educate your children because you are free - you are not dependent on their love. You can really love your husband - because you are no longer obsessed trying to get his love. You can love your wife - the inner love which you have in you is enough. Life stops being a tug of war, a desperate effort to be loved. Instead you will start loving.
Saint Polycarp is one of the earlier martyrs in the Church, He was burned at the stake in the amphitheater at Smyrna in 155. He was a very old man. Ancient Christian literature includes the words he exchanged with the judge just before he died at the stake:
"Come now," the judge says at Polycarp's trial, "where is the harm in just saying Caesar is Lord and offering the incense, when it will save your life?"
And Polycarp's response: "Eighty six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
Was he right? I think he was! What do you think?
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.