23rd Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
The Gospel today is one of the most challenging in all the scriptures, and it asks us an important question: who, or what, is the center of my life?
Jesus turns to the crowd and says, "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife, and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." The other Gospels put it slightly differently, in the positive: "Unless you love me more than father and mother," and so on.
Can you imagine another great spiritual leader saying something like this? "Unless you love ME more." Mohammed might say, "Unless you love the Quran more . . .." Or the Buddha might say, "Unless you love my teaching more . . .." Or Moses might say, "Unless you love the Law more . . .." But none would say, "Unless you love ME more than father and mother, etc." But that’s what Jesus says. And it makes all the difference.
Jesus tells us that he is not just one teacher among many, one spiritual guide among many. He is the One to whom all teachings point, about whom all the prophets spoke. And it demands an answer from us: we either turn our life over to him, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
So what are the implications for us? If we decide that Jesus is the center of our lives (our center of gravity)—every other priority must fall away. When Jesus is the center, everything else finds its place—he is the one God we worship (the First Commandment).
But for many of us, there are other gods. Other things that get in the way. For some, it will be self-interest: everything revolves around me. For others it might be money. Maybe it’s personal power: all decision based on remaining powerful. Maybe it’s prestige and honor. Maybe its pleasure. Whatever it might be, for many us, Jesus gets bumped out of the center by other gods.
And here is the point: when we place other gods at the center of our lives, things go awry. When we worship other gods—when something other than Jesus becomes the ultimate good—our spiritual lives falls apart.
I’m reminded here of last week’s Gospel, the parable of people who want the places of honor at the table. Jesus recommends taking the lowest place.
In the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, we call this agere contra. To act against. If you find yourself drawn to the top place, take the lowest. If you’re into money, give it away. If you’re into power, divest yourself of power. If sex is your problem, be celibate and chaste. Agere contra. To act against.
The goal is to achieve "detachment." Detachment from things that become the priority in our lives. When Jesus says "hate" those things that keep us from God, he really means "be detached." Money, power, pleasure, self: they are not bad in themselves, but don’t let them take priority in your life. Put them in their place—don’t let them become gods that we worship.
Make Christ the center of our lives—the God whom we worship.
And if we do, we are ready for any challenge. For whatever comes. Building a tower. Fighting a battle.
And nothing will stop us.