At times, people must have thought Jesus was crazy! The gospel passage we just heard is a great example (Lk. 14:25-33). What did people think when he said, “If anyone comes to me without hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:25-26) The parallel to this passage in Matthew’s Gospel is not as harsh. It says, “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.” (Mt. 10:37)
The ‘hating’ language challenges us to love and obey God above everyone else. He used shocking language to grab our attention. This is hyperbole. Do you think that Jesus thinned the crowd that day? I wonder how many walked away saying to each other, “This is just too much! He’s crazy! Why does he say such things?”
He wants to know if we’re totally committed. To be Christian is to make a definitive choice to serve the Lord. To be Christian is to be totally obedient to God. Does your obedience to God make you say crazy things? Things that make people take a step back and wonder if they want to be associated with you?
It reminds me of when I first met Mother Teresa as a seminarian. When I heard her speak to the person in front of me, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to meet her. I worked as a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity at a soup kitchen and shelter for homeless men. When Mother Teresa came to visit, the Sisters would call and say, “Mother is here. If you come to morning Mass, you could meet her.”
After Mass, people lined up to meet her, and a man introduced himself and told her that he was making a movie in India. She interrupted him with a blunt challenge, “What are you doing for Jesus?” She repeated that question several times. Then she spoke sternly to him and told him that he was too focused on himself. I was stunned at how tough she was with him. Why did she react so harshly toward him? I thought that maybe this was not a good time to meet Mother Teresa. I wasn’t sure what she might say to me.
Mother Teresa was a tiny person, about shoulder height to me. Yet, she was a formidable presence. She was fearless. Why was she so strong? She had total obedience to God. She made a definitive choice to serve the Lord. It made her fearless.
For Jesus and St. Teresa of Calcutta, total obedience was rooted in total love of God. It is essential to see the love behind the fearless obedience. Mother Teresa said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. . . . As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” Total obedience to the Lord is rooted in total love for God.
Have heard about Franz Jaggerstatter? He was an ordinary lay man who was declared a martyr of the faith in 2007. Franz lived in Austria during World War II. He was a farmer, with a wife and three children. He was beheaded because he refused to serve in the army with the Nazis. He was a conscientious objectorof the Nazi regime.
However, his parish priest, his wife and his lawyer all tried to change his mind. The bishop of the diocese said that he had a responsibility to obey legitimate authorities and to give greater weight to his family’s needs. Jagerstatter said, “I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, he is free to offend God by lying. Did not Christ himself say, ‘He who loves father, mother, or children more than me is not worthy of me?”
In a letter to his godchild Franz wrote: “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living. . . . Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith.”
Are you living as a hero of the faith, or a halfway Christian? A hero’s life is rooted in God. Mother Teresa spent the first hour of the day in prayer. Franz went to daily Mass. Their total obedience to God was rooted in total love for God. You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.
You might be strong and forceful, but the danger is to be driven by your own convictions. Sometimes, we are driven by our personality, rather than impelled by the love of God. I notice that tendency in myself at times. That kind of energy is mixed up with pride and domination, instead of a humility and gentle strength.
In contrast, Teresa of Calcutta, Franz Jagerstatter and Jesus had a humble and gentle strength. It was bigger than their own desires because they were impelled by God. They were worked tirelessly, but were never burned out. They were not fearful or harsh, but calm and confident because they knew that God’s Providence would prevail.
Yet, their love for God made them do crazy things. Their love was fierce. It pushed Franz to take a stand that separated him from family. It gave him the strength to be beheaded. You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.
One of the main things people say in confession is, “I have not kept God as my first priority. My prayer life is weak.” As a new school year begins, we need to re-prioritize. There are so many activities that compete for our time. Make the love of God your top priority.
- Do you willingly join in the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist? Is Mass the center of your entire life because you realize that without it you can do nothing?
- Is daily prayer more important than brushing your teeth or taking a shower? Do you pray each day, no matter what?
- Have you made a daily commitment to prayerfully read the Scriptures? Is the voice of God more important than your favorite website? People spend 6 ½ hours a day online: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. How would your attitude change if you spent 10% of that time or 39 minutes a day in silence with the Scriptures?
When you get the Love of God right, then you will be a little crazy…. at least, a little crazy. Then you will be a hero of the faith, instead of a halfway Christian. At Mass today, ask for the grace to be centered in God’s love. Then ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to be a fierce disciple.