2nd Sunday after Pentecost, year A, 2014 (preached June 22, 2014)
first reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
second reading: Romans 6:1b-11
gospel reading: Matthew 10:24-39
The past two weeks I’ve had many proud parental moments with my oldest child. Two weeks ago she stood before the altar and affirmed her baptism in the Rite of Confirmation. This past week she graduated from eighth grade.
I’ve had many opportunities in the past few weeks to reflect upon her life thus far – from the newborn we first held, the many struggles she’s faced, and the amazing young woman she is becoming. My commitment to her as her mother has never been more steadfast, and my heart has been overflowing with love, admiration and devotion.
But then there’s this: “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…. 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…”
This is one of those times when the Bible makes us go “Huh? What in the world was Jesus thinking?”
This is one of those times when it’s really important to remember that the books of the Bible were written in a specific time and place, for specific people. But that doesn’t get us off the hook, because the books of the Bible were also written so that we could do our best to find the TRUTH in a reading and apply that to ourselves, even thousands of years later, even if at first glance the reading doesn’t make much sense.
Is Jesus really telling us that we shouldn’t love our children, and that our children should be against us? If we love our family does it really mean we are unworthy of Jesus?
The answer to both those questions is a resounding NO.
The key in the whole passage is in the word “more.” In Greek the word is pronounced “hoo-pair” – and other words we could use to translate it are: OVER, or BEYOND.
Jesus isn’t telling us that we should hate or disrespect our family relationships. He’s not telling us NOT to love and form deep, intimate bonds with others. He isn’t telling me I can’t be proud and overwhelmed by the love I have for ALL my children.
The baby Church at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the time of the writing of the New Testament was filled with conflict within and without. Families were indeed being torn apart by faith – Jews and Christians separating from one another and Gentiles were joining the mix.
Most of the time you and I aren’t made to choose between our faith and our family relationships – and thank God for that. Most of the time you and I aren’t made to choose between our faith and our very LIFE as the early disciples were, and as some people in the world still ARE.
But even though we aren’t faced with such heart-wrenching painful circumstances, we can’t just toss out the deeper truth Jesus is presenting to us. What he’s warning us against is anything that would become another “god” to us. Again, the key is in the word “more.”
Our gospel reading today is a reminder to put all thing in our life in their proper place. What Jesus IS telling us is that while our love and devotion to family is utterly appropriate – they do not give us the Kingdom.
My daughter is one of the most amazing people I’ve known – but she cannot save me. I would easily give my life to protect any of my children – but I cannot ultimately save them.
There is only ONE who can do that. There is only ONE who can save both my body AND my soul. And that ONE who has power over the soul, who has counted every hair on our head, who knows every sparrow and yet cares for us – that ONE needs to come first.
What Jesus is referring to, the deeper truth which he is presenting to the disciples of both then and NOW – is the First Commandment – You shall have no other gods.
In the catechism we learn that this commandment means we are to fear, love, and trust God above ALL things.
For us it may or may not be family. There are competing loyalties all around us. Things or people that threaten to become other gods for us.
Greed – the desire to have more than we do today, more than our neighbors, more than we’ll ever need. Power. Professional success. Sports – yes, how many people do we know who spend enormous amounts of money on their sports teams, are sure to attend games in person or sit in front of the tv for hours – but can’t find time or a few extra dollars to support the church?
All these thing are false gods, because the satisfaction we find in them is only temporary. Greed. Money. Power. We can never get enough of those things, but they can be snatched from us in an instant. Even the love between people is fleeting and imperfect. In our sin we do and say things that hurt. And sometimes relationships become broken and those who once loved become enemies.
If we put our first trust in those things, or those people, what happens when they fail us?
With God’s love as our center, with Jesus’ cross as our anchor, all “things” fall into their proper place. Our life will not be painless, but we will never be alone, never without the arms of God’s love and strength, comforting us and holding us up and bringing us through.
For there is a difference between the things or people that give us happiness in life, and the ONE who gives us LIFE itself. Between those we love and the ONE who IS love, who loved us from the start, loves us no matter what, and will love us forever.
For only God’s love is perfect. Only God’s grace and mercy is forever. Only God’s sacrifice saves our souls.