Gospel Reflection For Sunday 2nd July 2023 13th Sunday In Ordinary Time
We have all heard stories of the fisherman who says that the fish that got away was “…this big!…” (holding his arms wide apart to indicate the size), and I’m sure we have said at some time in our lives, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse…and still have room for the saddle!”, or we have heard a naughty child say to a friend, “When Mum finds out, she’ll kill me!”
When we hear these things we don’t consider buying the largest frying pan we can get so that we can accommodate the next fishing trip, or frantically consult our recipe books looking for a way to make a saddle tender, and we don’t immediately call the police and social services to have the child protected. We know that what we are hearing in each case is an exaggeration (‘hyperbole’ if you want the correct term for it), used to make an impression, emphasise a point or highlight something we are saying. This type of exaggeration works precisely because it sounds so outrageous – except maybe the fish, because it really was “….this big…”!!!
If anyone, reading today’s Gospel, imagines that Jesus actually expects us to ‘prefer’ him before father or mother then I suggest they read the Gospels again. If anyone argues that we must love Jesus or God more than we love our own son or daughter, then they have not met the same man I meet when I read the Gospels. Clearly, what we are seeing here is exaggeration (hyperbole), used by Jesus to make a point.
The exaggerations sound even more dramatic because they follow one after the other, like gun shots, guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of his hearers. What we are seeing is a clever device Matthew uses right through his Gospel; he gathers similar statements, said at different times and in different places, and puts them together so that they can be easily remembered. For example, we all know the “Sermon on the Mount” where we have a list of statements beginning, “Happy are….”. This is the same technique.
So if Jesus was not demanding that we prefer him to mother, father, son, daughter, then what was he saying to us, his followers? It doesn’t take a genius to work out that what he is talking about is commitment, our obligation to think carefully before we act.
Christianity is not a set of philosophical ideals or a way of life based on moral principles. When we ‘sign on’ to be Christian we are not handed a book of ethics or values to be learned and then imitated.
Instead we are given the Gospels, the story of one man, who lived one life, in an unimportant backwater of the Roman Empire; a man whose life has changed the course of human history more than any other person has ever done. When we become Christian we are told to “come and see…” the way he lived and the things he said, and then we are told to hear his words, “follow me….” and act on them. A Christian is a person who follows one man – Jesus of Nazareth. Our commitment is not made to a Church or a Pope or a Rabii or an Imam. Our commitment is to a person, Jesus, and only that.
The Gospels, when we read them openly and honestly tell an amazing and awesome story. They tell us that at a moment in time, our God, Creator of all that exists, came among us for one reason only – to show us the wonder of who we are, the love with which we are held by God, and the invitation God offers each of us to share in his/her own life of love. It is the story of a man who died because his life was love and he could not, would not, live anything other than love – for all people, at all times, without excluding anyone.
If the story ended there it would be a wonderful story of courage, commitment and daring. But the Christian story does not end there. It tells us that this man, Jesus, rose from the dead – a final sign from God that love is stronger than hate and good will triumph over evil.
What a story! What a man! What a life!
The man we follow did not live a dull or boring life. He lived a life filled with action, achievement and challenge. He came, he told us himself, “…that we might have life, and have it to the full.” With a small band of close friends he travelled from place to place, curing the sick, giving back dignity to the poor, calling out injustice and hypocrisy for what it was – wrong and unworthy of any human person.
So why is it then, that in the western world at least, our Churches are emptier than they ever were, with fewer and fewer young people willing to make a commitment to Christianity?
It cannot be that young people are lazy and do not like a challenge. Nor can it be that young people are willing to accept injustices and hypocrisy when they see them.
Young people care passionately for our world and its people. They have accepted the challenge of keeping our climate and the damage we are doing to our planet high on the agenda of politicians and multi-National Companies. They are willing to call out the hypocrisy of the wealthy and powerful, for which they are often ridiculed, arrested and sometimes imprisoned. They are, for all intents and purposes, Christian without the person of Christ.
And that, I think, is a pity.
It is not that what they do is of any less value because they do not attach the title ‘Christian’ to it. Of course not! Good will always be good, truth will always be truth, love will always be love regardless of what title we give it.
But it is still a pity that so many wonderful men and women cannot see, or have never been offered, the real life of the man who walked the trails of Israel two thousand years ago – Jesus of Nazareth – as their model.
It is particularly a pity because the model Jesus left us is not just for this life but for every life, past, present and to come. When Jesus talks about the ‘Kingdom of God’ he is not referring to some vast array of angels singing hymn in the clouds, but a very real Kingdom of love, peace and justice in this world. What’s more, he is telling us that this Kingdom is possible, indeed it has already begun. We know it is true because the man we know and follow, Jesus of Nazareth, rose from the dead.
Today’s Gospel makes me stop and wonder why our Churches are emptier. Could it be that in an effort to make Christianity attractive we have taken away its challenges and its demands? Have we, maybe, interpreted the gentle, compassionate and peaceful Jesus as weak, lacking courage and spineless? Many artistic representations of Jesus, as well as some movie representations, do not help in this regard!
Saying that we must prefer Jesus to mother, father, son and daughter is hyperbole and not intended to be taken as factual. However, the challenges of following Jesus of Nazareth, and the crosses which inevitably follow this commitment are real and, at times, stark.
This is the message of today’s Gospel, and when we look at our empty Churches and cynical young people, it is a message we cannot ignore.
We do our young people a huge disservice if we feel we must present a watered-down version of Jesus to make him ‘acceptable’ and attractive. Jesus spoke, we are told, “…with authority, not like the Scribes and Pharisees.” His commitment was to the poor, to justice, to the sick and excluded, to love and compassion. He lived “…his life to the full…” and calls us to do the same.
It is a commitment we must not shirk.
“Anyone who prefers mother or father to me, is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me…”
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|Matthew 10:37-42 ©|
Anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it
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