In the Gospel reading for Sept. 8, Jesus tells us that truly following Him requires a series of continuous commitments. But for many, such commitments are simply a bridge too far.
The commitments Jesus lists include “hating” our family, bearing our cross, and planning our path (LK 14:25-33). Christ is telling us that following Him requires sacrifice, suffering, dedication, commitment, dedication, and planning. This teaching ties back to previous readings where Jesus tells us we need to be humble (LK 14:7-14) and that we should strive to enter the kingdom through the narrow door (LK 13:22-30).
Many people are ‘turned off’ by the word “hate” in this reading. But as Msgr. Charles Pope explains, “The use of the word “hate” here does not mean that we are to have contempt for others or to nourish unrighteous anger toward them. Rather, this is a Jewish idiom. For some reason, the Hebrew language has very few comparative words such as more/less and greater/ fewer . . . So, what Jesus means is that we cannot prefer anyone or anything to Him.”
Our Lord was merely telling us that following Him must be our primary mission in this life, above all other commitments and missions. The ironic part of this concern is that the word “hate” is one of a litany of words so thrown about in our modern speech that it has somehow undergone a diabolic distortion.
Today this word is often used as a weapon of political, social, and media manipulation. If an opponent does not agree with us, we call them a hater. If anyone dares to express reservations regarding others’ actions and attitudes, we call them a hater. Pretty soon, we will resort to calling anyone who gets in our nerves a hater. In this superficial and often lazy society, the mainstream media has taken over the mantle of description and perception of reality. Whomever the media calls a hater is, in fact, a hater. No further explanation or justification necessary!
Some ‘Hatred’ is Actually Required
In truth, to hold Christ above everything else in our lives, we must develop a hatred, an aversion, or at least a disregard for anything and anyone who dares to stand in our way toward Christ. That of course includes sin but, beyond that, it includes not allowing the ingredients of sin to fester in our daily lives. Things such as resentment, bitterness, revenge, lust, and jealousy, for example, cannot be allowed to become squatters in our hearts, minds, and souls lest they become permanent squatters and, eventually, possessors of who we are.
Any strong feeling toward someone or something implies a passion or a love for that person or thing. Likewise, any strong aversion or hatred for someone or something implies a total distaste and a commitment to avoid and distance ourselves from that person or thing. Unless we find sin, toxic things, and toxic people revolting, we will leave ourselves vulnerable to those very sins, things, and people. Ultimately, unless someone or something brings us closer to Christ, we must push that person or thing away on our journey and mission to help ourselves and others toward Christ.
Following Christ is About Genuine Sacrifice
While we have all heard that we carry our crosses in order to follow Christ, many of us brush this challenge off. We have not seen too many folks hanging from crosses in our neighborhoods lately. We think of crucifixion as an ancient and primitive torture and punishment. So we do not take it too seriously in our so-called enlightened world. We do, however, understand that carrying our crosses means being willing to suffer and sacrifice. But many of us now equate this with not eating chocolate during Lent.
In truth, the level and kind of sacrifice and suffering that we must equate with carrying our cross has never been watered down since Calvary. What has often been diluted, however, is our perception of what that cross actually means. This is not about sacrificing chocolate or high fat diets. It is about pushing away the false values and superficial concerns of this world. It is about placing Christ above anything this world promises and, in fact, above ourselves and our own personal agenda.
Following Christ Cannot Be an Accident
This reading also reminds us that following Christ cannot be an accident or a coincidence. Being a follower of Christ is a serious and profound commitment. We cannot possibly turn that dedication into a whimsical fancy to be followed only on odd days or whenever we are in the mood.
Our Lord compares this to building a serious structure or responding to a serious military situation. If we seriously want to build something of value or be a soldier for any worthwhile cause, we do some serious planning. Then we must dedicate ourselves to that which we plan to build or fight for.
We must also note that this building and fighting does not, however, imply random, headstrong, or mindless full-speed-ahead thinking. We must be willing to take a step back, to pause, to assess our strengths and weaknesses, and to adjust our original plans. Temporary retreat is often the best response to immediate obstacles and setbacks if one is to obtain ultimate, long-term success.
Failure to Plan
In truth, sin is the result of accidental thinking. When we do not plan, we fail to prepare. We fall to the whims of human weakness and nature. In our quest for Christ it can truly be said that if we fail to prepare, we prepare to fail.
If we consider the temporary shine of sin threatening our eternal salvation, we begin to get a sense of just how foolish and mindless sin really is. Assuming that we actually care and want to save our souls, then it makes absolutely no sense to lose that treasure by committing any sin. Yet we do it every day.
Sin is the epitome of foolishness and of stupidity. Yet we engage in such stupidity all the time. Are we, in fact, stupid? No, we are just weak;. And that weakness causes us to accidentally slip into the utter failure of sin.
My meaning here is that God has given each of us enough intelligence and common sense to realize that sin is the ultimate stupidity. However, He has also given us freedom of choice. So too often we choose to be stupid and vulnerable to our own human weakness.
If we would approach every day like an intelligent and careful builder or a general constructing our path to Christ and confronting the forces that pull us away from Him, our God-given gifts would put us on the path to eternal salvation. Sadly, we tend to stumble through each day, oblivious to the forces that threaten us. And we inadvertently build our eternal resume on flimsy ground.
Ultimately, if we do not put Christ above everyone and everything else, we are putting ourselves above Christ. If we are not willing to fully sacrifice and suffer for Christ, we are also putting ourselves above Christ. All sin is about putting ourselves above Christ. If we fail to plan and prepare to do what we have to do to follow Christ and serve God with our God-given gifts, we are again putting ourselves above Christ.
Given all of this, this Gospel reading is really telling us that reaching eternal salvation means putting away our mirrors and stopping our fascination with ourselves above Christ. Following Christ is about keeping our eyes on the prize and that prize is not a selfie.