The readings for the 13th Sunday this year are especially challenging. The Gospel beginning in Matthew Chapter 10:37 is, I believe, one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Wow! Jesus has called out some of the most important human relationships, our intimate, immediate family; father, mother, son, daughter. As a parent I know the love I have for my daughters. I know the love and respect I have for my parents. It is hard to imagine, other than perhaps our spouses, a bond of love greater than these. Yet Jesus tells us unless we love him with a greater love we are not worthy of him.
This is one of those sayings of Jesus that let us know being His true follower is not easy. It is not all roses and sunshine. To be a true follower and to be worthy of Jesus could actually result in straining or even breaking our human relationships. This got me thinking. What are some of the relationships that I put over and above Jesus in my life? If the standard is the love I have for my family, what other “loves” do I have in my life that must be, not abandoned, but put under and subject to my love of Jesus?
How about my own ego? That self-love, the part of me that whispers in my ear and helps me rationalize my behavior or ideologies that might conflict with the Gospel? That part of me that I love so much that I’m not willing to love Jesus by keeping His commands. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” ( Jn 14:15 ) “Whoever receives you receives me.” (Mt 10:40) Jesus told his disciples, “What you bind on earth is bound in heaven and what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19)
I learned a new word not long ago, Anthropocentric. This is putting the human person at the center, the end all be all of what we do. This is loving humankind over and above God, it is not God centered. We live in a highly individualistic culture. Our culture has an anthropocentric world view. We do not like being subject to authority, civil or religious. If I am asked to do something that goes against my ego, I rebel. “You can’t tell me what to do!” Often, overlooking the common good as an infringement on my personal desires we have lapsed into a mindset that if anything is suggested that goes against my personal desires, I have been offended and the one who has a different idea is hateful and intolerant. Sadly, tolerance itself often manifests the greatest degree of intolerance, as it proclaims you must agree with me, respect my ideology and beliefs, yet I am not obligated to respect yours. And so we love almost anything over and above Jesus.
This is a hard message to hear. I know that I, like many, read my own bias into the Gospel. I read my own bias into blog posts and messages people send me. We love our bias, and let’s be honest, they are often so ingrained in our subconscious that we deploy them without thought or reflection. This is where we need to pray for the grace of enlightenment and conversion. The Rule of Life for the Secular Franciscan tells me that “motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls “conversion.” Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.” (Article 7)
Our conversion is not a one-time event. It is a daily struggle, and as our Gospel passage tells us, “whoever does not take up his cross is not worthy of me.” How do we discover our bias and that which needs conversion in our life? We carry the cross of our passions. We carry the cross of those people who sometimes irritate us, do not agree with us. Can we carry that cross to meaningful dialog so that we can learn about the other, gain an understanding, and begin to build a bridge? Can we pray for the grace each day to be open to the Holy Spirit and the willingness to recognize our biases and, if necessary, carry the cross of our daily struggles to change what needs to be changed?
We are living in a moment of history that is asking all of us to examine our hidden biases. What is it that I love more than Jesus that is an obstacle for me to be his true follower? What is it in my life that is making me “not worthy” of Jesus and His gospel? We all love the compassionate, loving, kind and forgiving Jesus. We often tend to ignore the demanding “your either all-in or all-out.” Jesus said: “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16) Jesus admonished the Church of Laodicea. Looking back at the Gospel passage we can honestly lament, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:5) Thankfully, Jesus also has an answer to that question so we will not lose hope because of our fallen human nature. “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” (Mk 10:27)