HOMILY WEEK 31 03 -Year I
The Commandments of Jesus
(Rm 13:8-10; Ps 112; Lk 14:25-33)
Isn’t it interesting how love and hate both figure in today’s readings? First, we are to love one another, and then in the gospel we are to hate our families!
In the end, the message is simple: we are to love God first and foremost, and put Jesus at the center of our lives.
One person actually sent me a message asking for some insight into the harshness of this gospel passage, which is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament.
The answer is once again that Jesus is using Semitic Hyperbole to make a point, especially with the teaching about hating one’s life to find it. Discipleship is not an easy ride – it demands sacrifice. This is the language of tough love, of exaggeration to make a point. It also touches on the spirituality of letting go. To put Jesus at the center of our lives; to make him the ultimate priority in our lives – is to let go of any thing that might threaten that commitment. That is what Jesus means by hating anything or anyone that might replace him as being first in our lives.
There are actually four commandments Jesus gave us about love: 1) Love God with our whole being, 2) Love one another as we love ourselves, 3) Love our enemies, and 4) Love others as he has loved us. The last two set the bar pretty high! Actually, in the first reading from Romans, St. Paul boils the whole bible – all the commandments – down to one sentence, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That is radically new, especially for the Judaism of Jesus’ time that prided itself on keeping a plethora of laws.
This builds on the problematic of all that violence in the Old Testament many people stumble upon, and that Bishop Robert Barron calls one of the You Tube heresies – how can God be a loving God when God seems to instruct the Israelites to be so violent?
The answer is all that violence in the Old Testament is not to be taken literally. It is an Old Testament form of Semitic hyperbole – holy exaggeration to make an important point – the chosen people of God had to crucify, destroy, kill all sin and sinfulness within them. They were to do this to fulfill God’s design for them to be icons of who God is on earth, attracting all the other nations around them to the one true God and free them from idolatry and worship of false gods that at times even degenerated into human sacrifice.
Those instructions to do violence were metaphorical, a command for them to purge themselves of all evil. That makes sense, because there is no sin or evil in God, so it all had to go. We can’t take anything except love into the Kingdom of God. All unfinished business has to be resolved, all sin forgiven, all sinfulness healed, before we can fully enter the reign of God. That is actually the purpose and meaning of our consoling doctrine of purgatory – the pain of entering heaven here and now. That is why Jesus could state in the Gospels that it is those who are doing violence to themselves that are entering his kingdom (Matthew 11:12).
Those who “get this” the easiest are recovering alcoholics. They know they can’t have an ounce of alcohol in them or they are in trouble, even facing a life or death situation. Robert, a recovering alcoholic, shared with me the trauma he experienced receiving communion in an Eastern Rite liturgy that used stronger alcohol than wine. Just the taste of it shocked him and led to an even physical reaction, let alone the psychological fear that he could relapse and spiral down to the gutter once again.
There is a difference between these commandments of Jesus, and those of the Old Testament, which are cast in the light of negatives or “do not’s”. The latter simply limit our activity and reach. The positive commands of Jesus stretch us and challenge us to go beyond any limits – to forgive 77 times 7 – to become forgiveness as the Father and Jesus are forgiveness.
So we can both hate and love at the same time – hate anything that becomes a false god in our lives, and love God, others, ourselves, our enemies and all of God’s creation, as Jesus has loved us.
The Eucharist is God loving us with unconditional love, giving God’s all to forgive and heal us. Celebrating it sincerely is also a commitment to put Jesus at the center of our lives, to serve him alone, and to have no other false gods before him. We are to love God absolutely, and hate anything that might even come close to replacing God as still point of our turning and often turbulent world.