Large crowds were travelling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Hate father and mother? Hate life itself? This is a deeply puzzling statement, and we have to look carefully at it. A scholar writes, “The Semitic mind [Jesus was a Semite] commonly associated opposing pairs of words, without distinguishing intermediate shades of meaning. ‘To hate’ could signify ‘to love less.’“ (He gives examples of this usage: Gen 29:31; Deut 21:15; Mt 5:43; Jn 12:25.) Many modern translations of these and similar passages substitute some other word for ‘hate’. So the strange verse is not telling us to hate our fathers and mothers, but rather not to give them precedence over the Lord.
Are Christians extremists, then? Yes, if you mean that we are asked to take the most important thing in the world and put ourselves wholly behind it. Moderation doesn't mean never going to any extreme; it means not going to false extremes. There is no limit to the effort we are to put into living the Christian life. You couldn’t imagine St Paul, who said, “Fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience,” saying instead, “Do take a little interest in what's going on in the Church, holding onto a bit of faith if you can!” Other creatures put everything they have into what they do. I remember having a close view of a bird singing. What energy he put into it! He was singing, body and soul; there was nothing in him that wasn’t singing. He wasn’t singing because it was expected of him, nor because he wanted to be popular, nor because he was drunk…. He was singing, pure and simple. I was made aware immediately of how I hang back in the very act of doing things, how I put only part of myself into what I do. This is more or less what we call ‘normal’. How hard it is to be pure and simple! Every creature can be our teacher.
When we were very small children we lived fully. We put everything we had into everything we did. We didn’t think about ourselves. If someone put a mirror in front of us we wouldn’t even recognise ourselves. But soon the fatal limiting begins. We begin to be self-conscious and to worry about ourselves; we begin to have a distinctive character. It is a kind of armour around one; the more character you have, the more you are limited. You sometimes meet an adult who is unable to be part of anything and whom nothing can please. But there is a kind of infinity about a small child: everything is welcome, everything is possible.
So when we meet Jesus, who is very like a child, we think he’s an extremist. No, he’s just alive. That's what makes him different from the rest of us.
Being alive, he breathes. He receives deeply and gives deeply. “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands” (Jn 3:35). And “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). It was this same Jesus who said to us, “Give up everything!”
I have met other child-like people too. A Japanese Zen Master, who had little English, was giving instruction in meditation. He just said, “Sit there, and give up everything!”
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