Whether it’s the prudent thing to do or not, I don’t know; but I’ll say it anyway. As a homilist I was again discouraged by my reading of the gospel passage for today and I asked myself what in the world I would say about it this time around. What I’m referring to are two statements attributed to Jesus: 1) “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother and wife and children, brothers and sisters and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” And 2) “…anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
I’ve told you before, and I repeat it it now, that I am not a bible scholar. I don’t know the ancient languages that have contributed to the formation of the scriptures. I don’t know a word of Jesus’ own Aramaic tongue. Of course, I consult the writings of the experts; but I cannot claim expertise on that account only. When will the day come that these important ancient writings will be adapted to the 21st century so that we contemporary Christians can understand the meaning, the essential core, of what they contain — especially in the words of Jesus?
So, this time I turned to a gem of a book that I discovered only a couple of years ago. It’s a translation of the entire bible, Old & New Testaments, into contemporary American English. Concerning the passage we’re considering today, I was not completely satisfied with what it says, but I found it to be a big step forward. Listen to what the translator, Dr. Eugene H. Petersen, puts in place of the old version that we just heard —
Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters — yes, even one’s own self! — can’t be my disciple.
Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can’t be my disciple.
Wouldn’t it be neat if there were only 6 or 8 of us here right now, sitting around in a circle, and contributing our thoughts about what we think Jesus actually said and meant? But we don’t have that luxury — and I’m glad we don’t because, if we did, most of you would not be here!
So I’ll contribute my 2 cents and hope that you agree. I believe that, by using exaggeration and hyperbole, which Jewish rabbis characteristically employ very effectively, Jesus was emphasizing that to follow in his ways is very serious business and must occupy first place in our lives — to the extent of disappointing, alienating, maybe even losing family members and close friends, if necessary in certain extreme situations. Not likely to happen, I suppose, but something we must be prepared to undergo should the situation ever demand it.
Here’s an example: A dear and longtime friend of mine converted to Catholicism 20-or-so years ago, much to the disappointment of her family. As if that were not enough, she soon after entered the convent, where she has lived happily and productively to this day as a nun and a nurse. She did not allow the disapproval of her mother and sisters to deter her from following where she was convinced Jesus was leading her.
I think that’s what he meant by the words so harshly translated in the gospel passage we just heard again.
Be at peace in the company of the risen Jesus, who loves us more than we could ever fully appreciate. He accompanies us only to greater & greater joy!