Today’s Gospel reading about being Jesus’ disciple is both beautiful and challenging.
In it we hear that no one is worthy to be called Jesus’ disciple unless he hates his mother/father/sister/brother/spouse for Jesus’ sake, takes up his own cross to follow Jesus, and renounces his possessions. To modern readers, this probably doesn’t sound like very good marketing on Jesus’ part; all three of these requirements for following Jesus are quite challenging.
We have to remember, however, that Jesus is speaking in a Jewish context. In Hebrew tradition, to hate one thing and love another simply meant to give preference to one over the other. Jesus is saying that to be his disciple one must put Jesus—that is, God—above even one’s own family. If God is not in first place, then nothing is in its right place.
In this Gospel reading we hear that great crowds are following Jesus. He has become very popular—everyone wants to be near him. But then Jesus turns to the crowds with the challenge to love him above all other loves. It can be easy for us to get very excited and enthusiastic about the Christian faith, but it’s much harder to imitate Christ in the face of our day-to-day struggles. As you delve into this week’s Scripture readings with the participants, the key question is: Are you walking in the footsteps of Christ?
Unpack the First Reading
In this text from Wisdom we can see clearly the Church’s teaching that we are subject to certain effects of original sin, the sin that we have inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. In the beginning, in our unfallen state, the human person would have been possessed of a sublime integrity, the right ordering of our passions or emotions under the direction of an intellect and will that had the gift of supernatural virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as a special gift of infused knowledge. In that original state, which would have followed upon our having been made by God in innocence and grace, we would have easily had concourse with him and been at peace with each other.
Because of the first sin, however, we find that our emotions are often at odds with reason. As St. Paul says; “For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind” (Romans 7:22-23). Our minds, although still capable of rational reflection, are subject to a darkening that came upon them when Adam and Eve revolted against God, and our wills are weakened too. And our own personal sins can leave us weakened still more. In this fallen state we need grace from God to be able to return, in some measure, to that original clarity of soul and mind and to be able to integrate our emotions and drives into an ordered human life, one marked by a self-mastery that is the foundation for all real love.
Unpack the Second Reading
The letter of St. Paul to Philemon is one of what are called the Captivity Letters, written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome between 61 and 63 A.D. It is the shortest of Paul’s letters (notice that it has no chapter numbers but only verse numbers, since it is only long enough to comprise one chapter). It is a very touching personal letter to a propertied man from the city of Colossae. Unfortunately, part of his “prop-erty” included human slaves, which would have been an acceptable part of the Greco-Roman culture of the time.
Although Paul does not condemn slavery in this letter, he reminds Philemon that he and his slave, Onesimus by name, are united as brothers in the Christian faith they now share. And that common Christian dignity—which is based upon their common human dignity—should transform the master-slave relationship they have had into something else, Paul suggests. Apparently Onesimus had run away from his master after having stolen some of his property and had then become a Christian in Rome.
Unpack the Gospel
In this Gospel passage our Lord explains how we overcome the problem of that effect of original sin that our first reading describes, the loss of integrity in our powers. Jesus uses here what scholars call a Semiticism in this text, in this case a hyperbolic statement or a wild extreme to make a clear point. In saying that we should “hate” our family members and even our own lives, he does not mean that we should really hate them. That would overturn the fourth commandment to honor father and mother, which Jesus himself upholds in Mark 7:10-13 and his own command that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.
He means rather that we must put everything in its proper place to reorder our lives and our loves. Since our emotions, which are bodily in origin, tend to try to override our higher faculties as an effect of the fall, we tend to love lesser things above those higher things that should mean the most. We tend to prefer our own bodily comforts, even when it may hurt others. And even our laudable love for family members can get in the way of the highest goods of the human race at times. Think of the man who refuses to go to war because of his love for his family, when it is precisely to protect them that he ought to go. All lesser loves can get in the way of that love which is most important, our love for God. And, in fact, all lesser loves will be made stronger if we get that highest love right.
Reflect & Discuss
Explore what this week’s Scripture readings have to say about the cost of true discipleship by watching the short Opening the Word video available free at StMichael.FORMED.org Discuss the following questions with a friend:
According to the Gospel reading and the video presentation, what are some of the requirements for true discipleship?
What does the presenter say it means when Jesus tells us we must hate our parents, siblings, other family members in order to truly follow him? Why is this necessary for true discipleship?
Which of the three requirements for discipleship do you find most challenging at this point in your life: preferring Jesus to anyone else, taking up your cross, or renouncing possessions? Why?
Eternal God and Father, thank you for calling us to follow your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for the courage to prefer you above all others, to take up our crosses, and to renounce our possessions. We offer you, Lord, our petitions for all our needs, especially _______. Amen.
Reprinted from the Opening the Word Leader Guide with permission from Augustine Institute.