Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
A challenge to make the right choices
We must center our lives on both the crucified and risen Christ
September 9, 2001, Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
It is interesting how in the past few weeks as we follow Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem we encounter two very different images of Jesus. On one hand we hear of his compassion and on the other how he makes strong demands. He reaches out to those who are hurting but also challenges the people of his society.
In Luke's mind he is also challenging his disciples. They too must be compassionate. This does not mean that they are to be soft and easy going but they are to be strong. In Luke's message the good news does not mean there is no cross. There might be a tendency for some to think that the good news means there will be no problems. The Christian life will be one of total glory. Luke warns that with that glory is the cross. If Jesus had to endure the cross his disciples must as well.
This week's gospel presents the demanding Jesus. The cost of discipleship is at the heart of its message. The fundamental life choice that people make in following Jesus is not easy. The demands he makes, in this gospel passage are not directed only to those who are already his disciples but to the whole crowd. The disciples are told how they might deepen their relationship with him.
In this passage we can see that there are different elements that are expected in following Jesus. The commitment must be total which in our own language means one must hunker down for the long haul. The initial enthusiasm of making a commitment can easily give way to fear or even apathy. As mentioned before, an acceptance of the cross one must endure is basic. One must center his or her life on both the crucified and risen Christ. One does not come without the other.
A third point is that one must not be attached to earthly possessions. These can become baggage that we might not be able to carry in fulfilling our mission.
The jarring element is certainly the expression "without hating father and mother." Jesus could not have meant real hate. Ever since, authors have been wrestling with these words. What did Jesus mean? Probably the best explanation is the idea that there are degrees of loyalty and love. Jesus commanded us to love God and one another. He is not retracting this command. He is asking us to realize that a commitment to God may make demands on our other loyalties. Therefore, the word hate might mean to love less. So a commitment to him and God has priority over any other commitment. In Luke's time these words might have been very meaningful for when one became a Christian the other members of the family may not have understood or even hated the one who did. A pagan society did not accept changing one's loyalty even to gods lightly.
We can see that the message of today's liturgy is a challenge to make the right choices. The Book of Wisdom, our first reading, tells us we must make many choices in life. These choices say something about our selves and our values. The Gospel tells us the choices we should make if we are to follow Jesus. At times it might seem that what Jesus is asking of us is impossible or that only a very few people could live. Yet Jesus also elsewhere makes the promise that God will enable us to follow through. God's grace will help us to make the right choices and live by them.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious
studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)