Today’s difficult gospel, with its language of hating, seems so untypical of Jesus. What does he mean? It is one thing to admit candidly that you are a sinner. It something else again to hate your family and yourself. Today, with our knowledge of psychology, we are rightly cautious about such hatred, which can result in depression, a sense of worthlessness, insecurity and even self-harm. So what could Jesus mean? I think that he is calling us to clarity. To be clear about who we are and about how we are called to live. And, in finding that clarity, to have the courage of our convictions.
Why then the language of hatred? The very violence of the language is meant to make us stop and think. But there is more to it than that. Let me offer the experience of clearing away the clutter from your life. It is a fairly common experience that at some time or another we begin to feel that we are losing the plot. We put off decisions. We circle around endlessly. We have no clear sense of direction. Then, suddenly, in a burst of energy and determination we decide to do something. Often we start with our immediate surroundings. We look at our office, or our study, or our flat, or our home, and we are appalled by the clutter. In a kind of self-loathing we decide to clear all this stuff away. The outward action is quite significant. It speaks to an inner movement, in which we seek space to breathe, a place where we can see more clearly what we should be doing and where we should be going. So I think that when Jesus says that we should be prepared to hate our life, it is an invitation to look frankly at the reality of our lives: our timidities, our mediocrities, our self-satisfaction. But we are not meant to stop there. To see who we really are is a jolt that invites us to do what Jesus invites us to do, to take up our cross and follow him. It means setting out afresh, aiming for nothing less than love of God and love of neighbour.
So far so good. But what about hating your own family? Again, the violence of the language startles. Remember, though, that we read first that great crowds accompanied Jesus. He is warning them to follow him will be costly and that you may need courage. It may not be for the fickle crowd but for those who will see it through to the end. We cherish the memory of the martyrs who would not renounce the faith, even although they loved their families deeply and longed to be with them. Without their witness the Church as a whole might not have survived persecution.
For many people fulfilment will be found in the love of family and the challenge of career. But Jesus reminds us that important though these things are, if taken in isolation they risk losing their meaning. The family that lives for itself alone dies a little. The couple who live for themselves alone will wither spiritually. Always, our loves and our commitments have to be seen as part of the great love of God for us and for our world. A Christian home does not shut itself against the world but rather wonders how their life as a family can be open to God and his kingdom. How, in fact, as a family they can be disciples and follow Christ, because ultimately, Christ does not call us to hatred but to love.
Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London. His latest book: Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=16114