Putting God First
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.' Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."
Jesus is not a fan of hatred. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…” (Mt 6: 43-44). Yet this admonition seems, at least on the surface, to contradict today's Gospel in which Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."
Our Lord is using exaggeration, a common literary and written form of expression, to make a very important point. Jesus does not, indeed, desire hatred for family or anyone else. Rather, He desires that we love God above everything and everyone else in our lives. Jesus desires that we love Him with every fiber of our being and that we seek the will of the Father above our own.
Our Lord knows that this exhortation to His followers is a difficult one. This desired passion for God can cause tension with some who are dear to us. It can even cause serious division in some instances. Our Lord does not desire this division; but, nor does He want us to compromise on important elements of our faith, especially it's social and moral teachings, in order to fit in.
Jesus does not want us to shove our values in the face of others or beat them over the head with our beliefs. He does not ask us to look down with arrogance upon others who are struggling to follow the Gospel way of life. He does ask us to live our faith humbly, generously and authentically. And He asks us to be strong in the face of opposition. This balance is not always easy to manage.
The conversion of St. Francis of Assisi comes quickly to mind. Soon after he began to embrace his faith on a deeper level, tensions arose with his father, Pietro di Bernardone. Francis was spending time in prayer and with lepers and not assisting very much with the family business. Young Francis was even selling his father's fine linens and giving the proceeds to the poor and to a local priest toward the restoration of an old, dilapidated chapel.
The father of Francis was so angered by his son's new life and unapproved generosity with the family money that he asked for a public meeting to be held in the presence of the bishop. At this meeting, Pietro outlined his complaints to those present, including the bishop. Francis dramatically responded by handing his father what was left of his money, as well as the clothes off his back. “Hereafter, I shall not say Father Pietro di Bernardone, but Our Father who art in heaven!" Clearly, Francis’ zeal for the Lord and radical new way of life caused significant division in his family.
Today’s Gospel passage also calls to mind a moment some years ago in the life of a student in one of our Youth Apostle ministries. This student came regularly to youth group, got excited about exploring a deeper relationship with Jesus, and found solace in new friendships that were rooted in the faith and in solid Christian values. She grew in her appreciation of the sacraments and opportunities for service to the needy. Consequently, this young woman determined the need to change some of her behaviors and some of the events that she participated in on the weekends. This caused serious friction in her relationships with several friends. In the end, she made the decision to avoid certain activities and certain conversations because they were harmful to her new life. She worked hard to maintain those friendships at school without being judgmental. She also invested more time and energy into those new relationships that genuinely encouraged her and nurtured her growth in faith. Sometimes, zeal for Jesus causes tension and division in our lives.
Today’s Gospel invites us to pray this week for the grace to give God primacy of place in our hearts. It demands that our growth in faith includes a corresponding growth in humility. It challenges us to stand up for our Lord and for the Gospel way of life He laid out for us, especially its high moral standards, even when doing so causes friction in our relationships.
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