Luke was a native of the ancient city of Antioch in Syria. This was a major trading center where the inhabitants represented extremes of wealth and poverty—something that was unusual in Israel. The cold-hearted philosophy of power experienced by Luke in Antioch caused him to be overwhelmed by the contrasting tenderness of the all-powerful God of Israel. Hence his wonderful gospel stories about the mercy of God, e.g. the parable of the prodigal son.
This discovery of God’s unconditional love and mercy caused Luke to insist also on the need to respond to that love in a similarly unconditional way. As this gospel passage makes clear, there can be no waffling or temporizing where commitment to Christ is concerned. Therefore, all other considerations, such as the claims of relatives, friends or possessions, must be subordinated to the absolute claim of God on those who have discovered his love and mercy.
We are often surprised and made uneasy by the rather shocking language Luke uses in reference to our relationship with family members. In that regard, it should be noted that “hating” in this context should simply be understood as the opposite of loving and would have the sense then of “not preferring.” This is quite clear in the corresponding text in Matthew’s gospel: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (10:37).
To the extent that we have personally experienced the merciful love of God—something that may only gradually dawn on us—we should be ready and willing to commit ourselves, as much as humanly possible, to making that same unconditional love available to others. This means, among other things, that we will not ask in advance whether we think they deserve it. Their need should be the only real consideration. Luke reminds us that this will mean following the often painful path of the cross as we put the needs of others before our own wishes. All the while, we will need to keep the love and care of others central in our lives, even as we hear the siren song of the world, including at times the well-intentioned wishes of our own family and friends.
All of this is illustrated by Luke in the unmistakable analogies of a builder who must consider carefully the cost of his total project before he begins his work or of a king who must do the same before committing troops to battle. In other words, following Christ is serious business and demands resolute dedication. There is no place here for dilettantes or eclectics. We hear much today about “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose what they like in the teaching of Jesus and of the Church.
The danger here is that we are not naturally inclined to choose to be loving and caring in any absolute way but only in accordance with our personal preferences. In such a context, renouncing all our possessions for the sake of Christ does not mean becoming a beggar. It does mean, however, that we discover that our true identity will no longer be determined by social status but only by our personal and radical devotion to the wisdom of Jesus.
Those who try to live in this loving way will also learn how incredibly loving God can be.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.
Image: Jesus the Comforter by August Andreas Jerndorff (1846-1906)