Loving God above all
Have you seen the video in the New York Post where a woman spontaneously throws herself in front of a speeding car to save the life of a child? It is graphic, but Shanta Jordan did just that on June 5, 2017, when a reckless driver veered onto the sidewalk and slammed Shanta and a young boy into a building. The video is not for the faint of heart, but it demonstrates the courage that some people have for saving innocent human life, even placing themselves in death’s pathway.
Within our Catholic Church we have many martyrs who chose to suffer torture and die a horrible death, sometimes a long lasting death, for the truth of God’s Ten Commandments, and of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Why? Be-cause they believed that only the faith of Jesus Christ can save us from something worse than death. Practicing the faith of Jesus Christ saves us from the power of Satan and the second death, consignment to everlasting punishment.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses some very strong words to emphasize the battle between the forces of good, and the forces of evil, and what it means to be his disciple. He uses hyperbole – an exaggerated statement – to make a very important point. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” See Luke, 14:25-33.
It is important that we understand that Jesus does not want us to “hate” anyone, but that he uses hyperbole to point out that we must love God first and foremost in order to love others, including ourselves, appropriately, otherwise we can get confused about the full message of the Gospel. As well, someone who doesn’t like Christianity might use this scripture passage to try to convince us to leave the faith.
If someone were to challenge you with the above Biblical passage, or say that they have left the Christian faith because of its anti-family message that the Bible communicates, it is important that we learn how to answer them calmly, lovingly and wisely, and not distort God’s first two Commandments of loving God first, and others as another self.
First, we should admit that there are some confusing stories and statements in the Bible, but that God has given us the Catholic Church to help us better understand these things.
Second, we should remind them that we need to put things in context. For example, everyone would agree that human life is a great value, and that their life is a concrete example of this truth. Ask them if they agree that their life should be protected by violent attacks. Most likely they would say “Yes.”
This, of course, corresponds to God’s 5th Commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” and the laws of a civilized country would also prohibit murder.
Third step, you might ask them if it would be “reasonable” to defend them from being killed by another person by using proportionate force, including using mortal force to kill their attacker if their life was in danger. They probably would say, “Yes,” to that too.
You can then explain to them that, although every human life is of primary value, there is a certain context when a person forfeits their right to life by violently attack-ing an innocent person, and thus that victim or another person who intends to save life can kill that attacker to save the other person.
Fourth step, remind them that Jesus wants everyone to love God above all things, and appropriately within all things, which would mean everyone would follow the Ten Commandments. However, since we fall short of practicing the Ten Commandments, we need Jesus Christ working through his Church to save us from our sins since his sacrificial love on the cross will save all those who repent of their sins and seek his holiness.
Those disciples who “renounce all his possessions” like the saints and martyrs of the Church, win for themselves and the faithful the true knowledge and grace that the faith is worth living for, and dying for, since it alone can save us from the Evil One. And since martyrdom or rocking the boat among our relationships, even our closest relationships, seems like foolishness to the world, Jesus uses hyperbole to drive the point home that his suffering and death for sinners, is the only true way that our life, and the lives of others, can be saved.
This essential point is so important that Jesus Christ uses hyperbole to emphasize the truth that we should “carry our cross” and follow Jesus on the path of holiness, which some-times seems like you are seriously disliking those who think otherwise. In fact, the world calls sincere Christians who stand against abortion, so-called gay marriage, and gender ideology as “haters.”
Yet, we are called to defend the faith within the frame work that we should love God above all things, and thus we are able to love our neighbor as ourself, and even love our enemies.
That is why in another passage Jesus said, “It is better to pluck out your eye and enter into heaven with one eye, then to sin with your eyes and enter into Gehenna with two eyes.” This hyperbole, this exaggeration, points to the fact that we should not die in mortal sin, for those who do not repent of their mortal sins will end up in everlasting punishment. The truth is that, when we hear these hyperboles of Jesus Christ, we want to follow the Ten Commandments so that we can enter into the Perfect Life of heaven, and we can only do this if we love God first and foremost.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe