Dear friends. The words of Jesus in the Gospel this Sunday are truly shocking. He asks us to hate our father, mother, families and even our own lives in preference to him. It gets worse. We are also to give up all our possessions. OK so he has our attention but what on earth does he mean?
We human beings have loves. We love our families, our job, our country, our hobbies, ice-cream flavour, sports, etc. etc. We also love things that do not always love us and are not good for us. I think here of addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling or even more subtle loves that can possess us instead of we possessing them. I remember growing up, all of us loved to be cool (we thought we were but of course we weren’t!). We love to be successful, we love to be useful and love to be popular. At the end of the day, we all love to be loved!
But we also know that all of these loves are not on the same level. There is a hierarchy where one love comes first and before everything else. It is the first love that governs everything, the centre of gravity around which turns every choice we make.
Friends, what Jesus is asking in today’s Gospel, is that God occupy this first place or centre of gravity in our lives. It is another way of stating the first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange gods before me’. For if we get this first commandment right then we become free to love everything and everyone else, in his name. Therefore, this teaching of Jesus is a call to the freedom for which God made us. When God is first place we are free for mission – to see everything and everyone as made by God and to love it for its own sake without being overly attached to it.
Jesus’ words are also a warning to us of what happens when our centre of gravity is occupied by something or someone else. If our families are first place then although that is good, we will be vulnerable to a crisis when our families change. So for example when our parents die, children fly the nest and move away or some crisis arrives unexpectedly. Similarly our loves for other things come and goes and they come and go.
This is why the unchanging love of God is the only thing that remains the same and must be the centre of gravity of our lives. God is called to be our first love and when he is not, trouble ensues. The great Belfast writer C.S. Lewis once wrote: ‘All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy’.
We realise of course that this does not happen overnight. To go from unhealthy attachments to something and someone to detachment involves pain and sacrifice. This is why Jesus links his message to carrying the cross. All of us have things we will have to let go of eventually, including our own lives when we die. At that moment, we will leave everything behind us and all that will remain will be the grace to commend our spirits into our loving Father’s hands. The Gospel is preparing us for that now and moving us towards freedom and away from idols and false gods.
And when that moment comes, we will realize that the freedom and joy that awaits us will be the fulfilment of the freedom and joy we tasted in this life when we put God back in the centre. Only then are we free to rejoice in the gifts of all things and all people, in Jesus name.