SUNDAY REFLECTION-Call To Discipleship To A Jealous God

SUNDAY REFLECTION

Call To Discipleship To A Jealous God

The Holy Scripture is a litter of divine commands to love and respect one’s parents, brothers, sisters and close relatives. Little wonder respect for one’s parents is the only commandment with a direct divine reward: Ex 20;12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you”.

Jesus’ life while on earth was a testimony to this fact. He was known for his passionate love for his mother so much so that he handed over his mother to the care of John the apostle at the foot of the cross to ensure her security of life and insurance.

He was submissive to the parents in Nazareth such that even when he stayed behind in Jerusalem (in his father’s house, doing his father’s work) after the Passover feast, he immediately followed the team of family members who had come in search of him (Lk. 2;41-51).

Does it not embarrass you as much as it has done to me my brothers and sisters that this same Jesus is here today telling us to hate father, mother, brothers, sisters and relatives? Does it mean that he loved his own dear ones and has desired we hate ours?

My embarrassment gains a quantum leap remembering that this same Jesus also rejected his mother in preference of his listeners at the temple in Jerusalem (Lk. 2;49). What then does he mean by all this seemingly contradictions?

In today’s Gospel Jesus suddenly stops in his tracks turning round and saying words that were quite shocking to his hearers and sound pretty harsh to us too: “If anyone comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and his own life, that person cannot be my follower/disciple.” The Jews, like a number of other ethnic communities, are recognized for their close family ties.

Why did Jesus decide to strike this great belief of the Jews? What were they and what are we to make of such an extraordinary statement? And surely we have an incomprehensible contradiction here. This is the same Jesus, who tells us to love our enemies, now telling us to hate our nearest and dearest relatives.

This is the same Jesus who cured the mother-in-law of Peter. This is the same Jesus who told the story of the Good Samaritan and in himself enjoyed the hospitality of his good friends and relatives, Mary and Martha but telling us today to hate our relatives.

In Igbo, we say ‘afu ihe ka ubi ere oba’ (one has to forsake something meaningful to gain a higher good and values). I don’t think Jesus is off his mind! I don’t think Jesus is selfish as the above words seemed to imply! Neither do I think Jesus has become so brutal, inhuman and unconcerned to human relationship.

He has rather pledged what each of us can simply, effortlessly and impolitely do when we desire higher goals and aspirations in life. From time to time we should stop and consider how momentous is the decision we have made to be a follower of Jesus. So easily we expect our Christian life to be undisturbed and unchallenged.

Our following of Christ can easily become an unreflective adherence to a faith into which we were born. We may continue going to Mass merely out of habit or even fear. However, today it is as though Jesus turns around to us and says: ‘This is not for the fainthearted. Following me is not about having things easy with God on your side. It is all about forgetting yourself and that, my friend, is a hard road.’

From time to time we need to be shocked out of our complacency and today’s invitation to make our own the wisdom of Jesus aims to do just that.

On the first look, the word “to hate” oneself, father, mother, brother, sister, and relatives seem absurd and discouraging. However, Jesus has not become a sadist. It is rather a Semitic expression that we should not take literally. It simply means that loving God is more important than anything else. Jesus is asking for first place in our hearts, he’s not asking us to abandon our families.

After all in the society in which Jesus lived people’s whole lives centered on their families. Our lives should be also. Jesus used extreme language so that people would not forget what He is asking, namely our wholehearted and uncompromising commitment to follow in His way, live in His truth, and share life with Him.

Remember he is a jealous God who would not desire to share his glory and praise with any creature just as a small baby would not wish that the parents share his love with anyone else.

The kind of love and foregoing of oneself for a higher value which Jesus speaks about is described beautifully by Paul in today’s extract from the Letter to Philemon. He is writing to his friend Philemon asking him to take back a slave who had apparently done something wrong but who, under Paul’s influence, had become a Christian.

Paul speaks with the greatest affection of this young man, “whose father I became while in prison.” Paul asks Philemon to treat the young man, Onesimus, “not as a slave any more but a brother. Welcome him as you would me.” This is a call for forgiveness.

Onesimus may well have done wrong but it is clear that, with his conversion, he is now a changed person who can be trusted and relied on. Even more, as a Christian, he is in a special way a brother to his owner, Philemon such that he ought to readmit Onesimus because of his love of God as a member of the Christian fold.

Nevertheless, my brothers do not make yourself a Onesimus awaiting to meet Paul. It may not always work for you. Be responsible in your dealings in your places of work and apprenticeship.

Our following must not be half-hearted, his two parables tell us. We must weigh up fully the implications of our decision not to allow any consideration to destroy our commitment to him; we must be ready to carry it through to the end. Otherwise, our situation will be like that of the man whose half-completed building is a monument to his foolishness; or worse, like that of the king whose lack of foresight leads him to defeat and death.

In the continuation of Luke’s text, Jesus tells us that we – who are called to share in his mission to bring wholesomeness to the world – should not become like salt that has lost its taste.

Similarly, says Jesus, no one can be a disciple of His who is not ready to let go of everything he thinks to be of such importance that he sets God aside and gives God little time and attention.

Giving up possessions is a huge demand of Jesus. It can be misunderstood and cause grief. What Jesus means is that we identify what is in us that may block us being his disciples. Wealth may be comfort, status in society or the church, security and whatever keeps us from acting justly with others.

We cannot support family members who cheat in business; we cannot support family members who practice racism or other forms of discrimination.

To do so would not really mean love to them and God. On the contrary, we would show our concern for their wellbeing precisely by opposing any immoral behavior and all that oppose the Gospel and our relationship with God the jealous Lord of heaven and earth. May the jealous God (Ex 20.5) help us to focus on him and never distracted from HIM.

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