Tuesday 18 November 2014
Hate your father and mother?
This Gospel reading teaches us with strong and shocking words that we must not allow even our normal family and social relationships to stand in the way of service to Christ. If we have decided to follow Christ then it must be with our whole heart and soul and mind. Perhaps in the West it has become very easy for people to become Christians without considering the cost. Perhaps the Christian life has been presented to them in a one-sided manner where only the benefits are described, where Christ is our Saviour and Friend, as indeed He is. But He is more than that. He is our Lord and our King, and God Himself. He cannot be our Saviour and Friend unless we recognize Him as Lord and Master as well.
Jesus expresses this other side of discipleship in very direct terms. He could have said – sometimes it might be a bit tough being my disciple – or – sometimes you’ll have to make difficult choices if you are my disciple. But that would fail to express the depth of the commitment to Christ which we are called to make. To be a disciple of Christ, to be a Christian, is not just one choice among many, rather it must be the very heart of our lives and beings.
So it is put as clearly as possible. If you are my disciple then I must come first. Even before your wife, before your husband, before your children, before jobs and education and social life. Christ must be first in all things. Compared to our commitment to Christ even our love for our families must come second.
We cannot easily explain away the words ‘must hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple’. That word ‘hate’ is the Greek verb miseo and it means hate, just as we use the word. Yet we must be careful to understand what Christ means. He does not mean that we should not love our families and even our own life, but he is insisting that when it comes to deciding who comes first it must always be Christ.
Now he does not say that the Church must come first, or our priests or bishops. Nor does he describe how he wishes us to serve him. This is very personal to our own circumstances. God calls one person to one service and another person to another service. Indeed there have been many times when I have been asked to do something in the way of ministry in the Church but it has been impossible because other responsibilities, not least to my family, have come first. There have been times I have not been able to attend services or meetings because of other demands on my time. This passage does not mean that we must always be in Church.
But it does mean that Christ must come first, and that we must be careful and diligent in discovering what he desires of us. He will often wish us to worship him in the Liturgy, and we should make every effort to be regular in our presence in the Church, so that we can draw near to him in the Holy Mysteries. He will ask us to commit ourselves to a regular and nourishing life of prayer. He will ask us to be studious in reading the Bible and seeking to understand it. But if we are husbands, wives, parents and children, then he will also wish us to serve him in those relationships.
This passage teaches us that we should not say – I am a father so I cannot serve Christ until I have taken care of my responsibilities as a parent. It teaches us that we cannot say – I am a husband so I cannot serve Christ until I have taken care of my responsibilities as a husband.
Rather we must seek to become the best and most devout and committed Christians that we can be, and only then will we really start to be the best fathers and husbands, mothers and wives. Indeed by giving up all to serve Christ we will become the best people that we can be.
This does not take away the difficult judgements that we must make. Sometimes we will disappoint our families because Christ calls us to serve him in a particular way. Sometimes we will know for sure that we must be with our families even when there is the joy of worship in the Church calling us, or when our priests and bishops ask us to take up some service. These judgements require much prayer so that we do not deceive ourselves and either neglect our responsibility to worship Christ and serve him in the Church, or neglect our service to our families and others when this is God’s will for us.
We will be guided to make the right judgements if we put Christ first and seek to serve him above all else whether in the Church or in our families and among our friends. There is a cost to Christian discipleship, but there is a great blessing as well. And we receive the blessing when we accept the cost. In these coming weeks, as we begin the Advent Fast and our journey to the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour, may we take the time to consider our own service and worship, in the Church and among our family and friends, and may we ask Christ to show us how he wishes us to serve him.
May we put him first in all that we do and in every moment of our lives.