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SPANISH VERSION »
A LIFE OF SELF-DENIAL
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 23rd Sunday of the Year, September 08, 2013
Wis. 9:13-19, Ps. 89, Philem. 9-10, 12-17, Luke 14:25-33


"Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, ‘If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple'" (Luke 14:25-26).


We are to honor our parents, as Jesus taught us when he condemned the Pharisees for their doctrine of Corban, saying, "Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother'; and ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die'; but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, what you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God)--then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your own tradition which you hand on" (Mark 7:10-13).


Yet, although Jesus teaches us that we are to honor our parents, today he teaches us that we are to hate them: "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother ... he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). And we note, furthermore, that he said this to great multitudes, not just to his apostles. In other words, it was a teaching for everyone, not just for a special group: "Great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, ‘If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother ... he cannot be my disciple'" (Luke 14:25-26).


How are we to understand this? Jesus cannot contradict himself. Both of these teachings are true. So we must honor our parents, and at the same time hate them. But how is this possible? It is possible in the sense that we honor them and have love for them in our heart, but because of the radical call of Jesus we are to detach ourselves from them to follow him. Jesus is using the word "hate" here in the same way that he tells us to pluck out our eye or cut off our hand or foot if they cause us to sin. It is clear that he means to break off a dangerous relationship or to cut off situations that are occasions of sin, which is sometimes a very difficult thing to do, like cutting off a hand or foot or gouging out an eye, but he does not mean that we are to actually mutilate ourselves physically. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away ... If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away" (Matt. 5:29-30). In other words, we are to make the greatest sacrifices to keep out of sin.


So when Jesus says that we are to hate our parents, wife, children, brothers and sisters and even our very self to be his follower and disciple, he is saying that we should leave everything of this world to follow him with all our heart; and, in fact, some do literally leave home and family and renounce even marriage to follow him more closely and radically with all their heart, making themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:12). But this does not mean that we should actually hate our family and parents and our very self in our heart any more than plucking out our eye means to actually gouge out our physical eye. Christ simply wants us to love him with an undivided heart, not actually hate our parents, family, and self in our heart.


Jesus makes this radical point in different ways. He says that we have to leave off burying our father if Jesus calls us to go off to announce the kingdom of God. "To another he said, ‘Follow me.' But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' But he said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:59-60).


Our love for Christ should take precedence over all other loves. We are not to turn back from our radical following of Jesus. Even the most sacred things, we are to leave for his sake. "Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:61-62). Jesus calls us to radical renunciation, to detach and divest ourselves of all for him, to follow him with all our heart, with an undivided heart. This is the meaning of this saying of Jesus that we are to hate our father and mother, and not only them but also our wife, children, brothers and sisters, and even our very life in order to be his disciple.


And how are we to hate our own life? We are to hate it by not spoiling it with worldly pleasures. We are to take care of our life, but at the same time hate it by denying ourselves for the love of Christ. Jesus says, "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25). We are not to love our life in this world, that is, by living in a worldly way. In this sense we are to hate our life in this world, for by doing this we preserve our life with God and dedicate it to him. The Christian life is a life of self-denial in this world for the sake of Christ. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24 NKJV)). By denying ourselves in this world we reserve our heart and our life for Christ. We keep our life for him by hating it in this world. "He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25).


We are also to hate our wife, children, and brothers and sisters to be a disciple. Love for Christ is to take precedence over all other loves. Therefore "everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Matt. 19:29 NKJV; cf. Luke 18:29-30). Those who do this lose their life in this world (Mark 8:35) and hate it (John 12:25) for the sake of Christ to preserve it more deeply with God, for their heart is less divided. So we are to stop saving our life in a worldly way, and rather lose our life in this world for the sake of Christ to truly save it with God. "For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35).


Those who renounce marriage lose their life in this world for the sake of Christ, and as a result they find it in a deeper way with God, for they are able to love God with a more radically undivided heart (1 Cor. 7:32-34, 38). They are "eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Matt. 19:12). "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given" (Matt. 19:11 NKJV).


We can conclude that although we are justified and saved by faith without works (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9), once we are justified and forgiven by Christ's work on the cross, not by our works, then we have to respond with all our heart and leave all to follow Christ. Our faith that justifies us without works is not alone but works, producing good works that show that we have saving faith, and so we grow through these works in progressive sanctification.


Once we leave all for Christ, we are not to look back (Luke 9:62), but rather live for him alone as our only master (Matt. 6:24) and only treasure (Matt. 6:19-21). We are to leave a worldly life and the wide and easy way of the many that leads to destruction; and rather choose the straight and narrow way of the few that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). We take the narrow way of life by detaching and divesting ourselves of the things and pleasures of the world, by losing our life in this world for the love of Christ, and by loving Christ with all our heart. "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33). So it is, because the Christian life is a life of self-denial. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24 NKJV).

 

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