Rom 13:8-10; Ps 112:1-9; Lk 14:25-33
Those who delight in God’s law are called blessed, but how can anyone find blessing in contradiction? In the first reading Saint Paul writes, “…whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then we hear in the Gospel from Saint Luke; “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.” What is a disciple to do? How is a disciple to find the blessing of obedience if he is commanded to both love and hate? Where is the dawn of clarity in the darkness of contradiction? How can anyone be upright, gracious, merciful, and just? Even the Psalms add to the confusion when they command the just to be gracious and lend. Indeed, the just must be lavish in giving to the poor if he expects his generosity to endure forever or his horn to be exalted in glory. Who can delight in this dilemma? Why do the teacher of the Gentiles and the Divine Teacher seem to contradict one another? What is going on here? How does one love self and neighbor and hate family and self?
Saint Paul appeals to the Decalogue to capture the Jewish Coverts in the Church of Rome. Then he expands the Ten Commandments by reference to the New Law of love from the gospel of Christ. He writes, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” When you place the interests of another ahead of self-interest, you act in love, the one who loves does no evil, and therefore, he fulfills the intent of all the laws. The many commands of the Old Covenant are intended to reign in self-interest and protect the interests of the neighbor. Living in this manner is life giving. Such a fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New Testament also finds the meaning of the New Testament in the Old Testament. Love has been so misunderstood over the centuries that it needs the clarity of the Ten Commandments. Love is not just a feeling; it is a commitment to others and self that seeks what is best for both. If we love ourselves and others we want what is best for self and others. What is better than to desire eternal life with the LORD of life? To desire heaven for self and others is to desire what is best. How then can we hate family and self? What is the gospel teaching?
The Divine Teacher, the Lord Jesus, seems to be weeding out the great crowds by commanding what is impossible. How can anyone continue to be his disciple when the Lord Jesus demands that we hate those we naturally love? It seems unnatural to hate our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even our own lives. Indeed, how can we take this command seriously? What does it mean? Perhaps we must look at the two examples for some understanding. Building a tower takes a great deal of planning and resources. Any wise builder must assess the cost to determine whether or not to even begin the project. Fighting an army twice the size of your own is not very wise unless you have the military strategy and weapons necessary. Indeed, the cost of discipleship is total. Following the Lord Jesus demands complete self-surrender and total trust. Anything less would make Christianity just another club in which one participates when it satisfies our plans and desires. The Lord Jesus concludes his teaching about the cross and its demands upon the disciple with this statement, “In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” The key word here is “possessions”. When we see family and even ourselves as objects to be manipulated to achieve self-interest, we deny their true value. We can never make self or others a means to anything. The human person is an end and not a means. So, perhaps, the word “hate” can be translated “prefer”. When we prefer anyone or anything more than we prefer God, we make idols for ourselves. No idol can provide what God can provide. Every idol is ultimately disappointing. What we worship we become. Loving God with our whole heart, mind and strength is the first commandment. Once the divine-human relationship is well ordered, then all our love is well ordered. We cannot fulfill the command to love if we do not hate all other attachments to our possessions, plans and purposes. Indeed, Saint Paul and the Lord Jesus do not contradict one another. They both demand our total obedience.