Sooner than later

Riddle me this: When Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” does that make any sense to you? Much of today’s Gospel seems inexplicable, doesn’t it? It feels as though what Jesus is saying is filled with riddles and contradictions; some parts come across as rather arrogant, dismissive, and condescending. So, what precisely is he telling us?

Only a cold cup of water

Perhaps a parable might help to explain the seemingly inexplicable.

Once there was a young man. He was born into a wonderful, loving family; never experiencing hunger or want, yet he was seldom allowed to engage in those idle pleasures which so many youths he knew were wont to enjoy.

Over time, the young man began to resent all that he had. Nothing satisfied his need for what he did not have. Bitter and morose, he escaped the prison walls of family and friends, intent on living his life in his own way and in his own time.

And he did just that.

He worked hard and he played hard. He succeeded in his career and in time became very wealthy. He had it all: money, power, prestige. He was finally living life to the full, and yet … He was not happy. All that he had left him dissatisfied. He had everything he had ever desired but there was always something more to be purchased, always something left to be acquired. What he could not purchase or acquire, such as love or family, he paid little heed. All his relationships were brief and shallow for he loved only that which he could own and possess.

Despite all his achievements, his possessions, and his wealth, he felt dead inside. Life had become unbearable, empty, and meaningless.

One evening he received a call from his father, with whom he had not spoken for many years. His father told him that he was dying; cancer he was told by his doctors. He wanted nothing but to tell his son he loved him and missed him. Could he please come home so he could see him once more before he passed away?

The son promised that he would come as soon as he could take care of a few things. Some months later, the man received another call informing him that his father had passed away and could he please come and take care of his father’s estate. Reluctantly, he acquiesced and made the journey to where he had grown up.

Those who had known his father spoke well of his kindness to everyone. They recalled his devotion to his wife, his family, his faith and his God; and of how proud he was of his son. They admired his honesty and fairness in all that he did. But most of all they were amazed by his generosity, for though he never had much, what he had he would cheerfully give away to anyone who was in greater need. And, they all said, he was the happiest man they had ever known.

Later, the man sat at the worn kitchen table, in the now silent house, and thought of all the things he had heard of his father that day. And, in the silence, heard his father telling him that he loved him and only wanted to see him one last time before he died. In that moment, the man understood for the first time in his life, what was most important: more important than money, power, or prestige; more important than things which can be purchased or acquired, more important even than himself.

All those years acquiring possessions, which in the end, possessed him. He had spent his life craving false gods, idols which too soon proved inadequate; and when they failed to satisfy, when they failed to meet his expectations, his desires turned to hatred for their indifferent betrayal.

He realized then that all he sought was for his own benefit, his own pleasure. He had made himself the absolute center of his life, the purpose for his existence and in doing so had brought ruin on himself. He had knelt before the altar of his possessions, things he had worshiped and adored.

With a suddenness that surprised, the man found himself on his knees and for the first time in many, many years, he prayed—to God. In that moment, the man gave himself to God; all that had possessed him, all his narcissistic illusions, died along with his former life. In his dying, he was reborn, he found new life.

According to Matthew’s account, Jesus 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.” Luke, on the other hand, recounts it this way:; “If you come to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and your own life too, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26) which is much harsher than Matthew’s telling of it. Here is an example of inadequate translation. The Gospels were all written in Greek although some portions originally written in Aramaic. Aramaic had no words for “love more than” which some scholars attribute to the use of the word “hate” in Luke.

Whenever we read scripture passages which deal with human relations, we must be aware of at least two possible dangers: the first is the relative importance expressed between the person or thing we love and the love of God, and the second is to keep in mind that such love can and often does become possessive.

If the totality of our love is exhausted by any created thing or person, then that ‘loved one’ must become the anchor of our being, our purpose and fulfillment, our security and final hope. Sooner or later such a total object of our love becomes our idol, a false god.

But God must always be ‘more than’ any creature on earth. If we turn a human person into a god, either that person will eventually possess us, or we will try to possess and use the fabricated god as an idol….

If we say to another, ‘you’re my everything; you’re my meaning; I am nothing without you,’ then what is left of us to give that person? Why would he or she even be bothered with us, if we are nothing without them? …

Only when we take up the cross of true love—’laying down our lives,’ sharing ourselves freely with our family and friends, not demanding that they be our gods or we be theirs—do we find ourselves.

If neither I nor you are God, but only God is God, then we may love each other freely, non-possessively, and without jealousy. There is no question of domination or control. Then we know the greatest gift God has given us: the capacity to bestow our lives freely in covenants and promises to our dear ones, who even in eternity are loved in God.1

All this is to highlight that there is a cost of discipleship, at times a very high cost. Jesus wanted to make sure that there were no illusions concerning how high the price might be demanded of his disciples. Discipleship often requires us to make difficult choices; seldom is it peaceful and easy. Yet, Jesus reminds us that every good thing we do will be known to God, even if you give only a cup of cold water to someone.

What Jesus is telling us is to seriously consider what is first in our lives or to acknowledge what should be first, which is our relationship with God. Our ticket to heaven can only be purchased from God. It should be the most valuable ticket we might ever purchase. When we don’t respond to God’s offer, we are telling him that his offer holds little or no value to us, that his offer doesn’t mean anything to us.

Jesus said, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Whether in this life or in the next, whenever we welcome and receive one another, we show our love for God who dwells in us and everyone else. Whether or not we will live for all eternity in the presence of Almighty God depends on our relationship with God in the here and now.

Unlike the young man in the parable, we need to ask ourselves where God is in our lives, not later, not tomorrow, not years from now, but today and each and every day of our lives.

Amen.

Homily #129
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16B
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42

 


1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, Letting Go of the Beloved, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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