What is your picture of our Lord? When you hear the name ‘Jesus’ what picture comes into your head? Is He tall or short? Is He fair skinned or dark? What colour are His eyes? What does His voice sound like? Does He have an accent?
Our imaginations are so fed by paintings, statues and nowadays by movies that the chances are each of has pretty much the same picture in our heads. Even His accent has its place. I would guess that most us think our Lord would sound something like Michael Powell in Jesus of Nazareth. Yet our Lord did not speak English, English did not exist back then. He spoke Aramaic and probably Greek too. Aramaic is close to Hebrew and to Arabic. That’s not just some incidental information but a key point in this sermon.
Isn’t Jesus, our Lord, supposed to be ‘nice’ and kind and loving? How can He say that we must hate our father, mother, brother, sister? How can we hate our life and still be Christian? What kind of teaching is this?
Those of you who remember Saddam Hussein in his heyday when he was first attacked by the Americans and their allies will remember that he promised it would be ‘the mother of all wars’. That kind of exaggeration in aid of emphasis is what our Lord is doing in the Gospel. Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, like the Arabic of Saddam Hussein, is not a subtle language. It is quite black and white. In order emphasise something one either exaggerates or one repeats oneself. So our Lord speaks of hating others. He means that we must put God and His kingdom before all other relationships. More we must oppose all those who endanger our salvation.
St Paul talks in one of his letters about the athletes training for the games and about their sacrifices and discipline. He says that we too need that kind of discipline if we are to make the sacrifices necessary to remain faithful to the Lord. To sacrifice literally means to honour something important, something holy by setting something else aside. That is why we say that parents make sacrifices for their children. The most important sacrifices we make are those we make for God.
Salvation, the reward for which we compete, is not a collective experience, that is, we are not offered it as a body, whether a nation, a community or a family. Each of us must choose to co-operate with the grace we receive in Baptism and Confirmation. Our earthly relationships, especially our families, are meant to help us grow in holiness, grow closer to God and be better people. If they do not then we have to choose: God’s way or the other way. Choosing God’s way can be very painful. We can find ourselves at odds with those we love but we are called to love them with more than mere human love. We are to love them with supernatural love, a love that seeks their salvation, that is, life with God forever in Heaven.
Being in conflict with our loved ones because we remain faithful to Christ and oppose their infidelity can be a very painful place to be. We don’t always know what to say or when to say it. We want peace and happiness in our families but we do not want it at the price of denying our Faith or turning a blind eye to something that is wrong. This is the cross, a cross we agreed to in Baptism, that we agree to at every Mass, and whenever we call upon the Lord. The price of salvation is engaging in the spiritual conflict within ourselves, within our families, and within our society between those who want to do God’s will and those who do not, between those who choose to co-operate with God grace and those who choose not to.
This is not possible by our own power. We cannot do it on our own. God is the King who advances with the larger army and we need to sit down and face reality. Let us negotiate our peace with God and co-operate with Him. Let us calculate what sacrifices we need to make to be faithful to the Lord and ask for the grace to make them. The tower that is built on the rock of Christ and His Church will not fall but become a safe haven for those who seek to be saved. Let us not come last in this contest. Let us not be left outside. Let us train. Let us compete and let us win.