“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid.” These are the words that began our first reading from Wisdom today.
As human knowledge has grown over the millennia, many think it is only a matter of time before we have an explanation for everything.
Do we really think we can ever comprehend everything? We cannot and nor are we meant to comprehend everything. We do not know everything and we do not have the perspective to understand everything. Our perspective is limited by our experiences and by our humanity.
Wisdom goes onto say, “And scarce do we guess the things of earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out.” We are not meant to know everything in this world but that does not mean we are not to know “a lot.”
When we live in “humility,” recognizing that while we may know much from reason, we do not know everything, what reason does not teach us, God will reveal to us when needed. Through the Holy Spirit, God gives us the gifts of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and counsel.
In his days here on earth, Jesus preached often to teach us what it means to be his disciples. Some of his teachings be easy to understand while others are difficult to grasp.
Today’s gospel contains some teaching that might be difficult to understand. This might be troubling in light of the fact that Jesus says three times in this one passage that we cannot be his disciple if we do not do these three things.
Let me turn first to the last of the three directions Jesus offers today. He says, “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Possessions are generally not good or bad in and of themselves. The problem is when our possessions begin to dictate our lives. It’s the attachment to the possession that is the problem. When we love the possession more than we love God and our neighbor, we hurt or break our relationship with God and neighbor.
This may not be too difficult to begin to understand. It can be much harder to live out. Earthly things come and go but while we have them, we find pleasure in them.
Jesus also says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” For the Jews this would have been inconceivable. The Cross (crucifixion) was used only for the worst of criminals. For the Gentiles, Jesus’ death on the Cross seems foolish, a defeat.
For us the Cross brings hope when we think of Jesus giving his life for us on the Cross. We know that He does this so that our sins will be forgiven when we confess them. Still, while we understand the value of Jesus taking up his Cross, we might struggle to understand the value of our own suffering. I can say it is often in our own suffering we discover who we really are and what our faith means to us. Yet, that still doesn’t always make it easy to bear our crosses.
That’s why we need to come to Mass regularly, to receive the grace we need to bear our crosses and to have an active relationship with Jesus, so we know He is always with us.
Now, I turn to the first thing Jesus tells us in this gospel passage that we must do to be his disciple. I saved it for last because, taken literally, it might be the most difficult to understand.
“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.”
Wow! Is Jesus really telling us to hate people, even ourselves? What happened to love your neighbor?
One commentary I looked at described this as a “Semitic idiom.” Another referred to it as a “rhetorical hyperbole.” I have a vague reconciliation from English class 35 years ago of these terms.
The bottom line is Jesus uses this expression of hating to get us to think. What He is trying to get us to understand is that we must put God first.
Are we to honor and love our father and mother? Yes, but not more than God.
Are we to love our spouses and children, as well as brothers and sisters? Yes, but not more than God.
What does it take to pull you away from God? Being faithful to God might be challenging when we have family and friends who do not practice our faith. Work might make it difficult to attend Mass. Sports, music, and other things we enjoy might conflict with Mass. It isn’t always easy but we are called to put God first.
What God asks for is “total dedication.”
What does “total dedication” to God get us?
It also gets us the grace we need as we bear the crosses that come before us. We need an ongoing relationship with God to know He is with us in the difficult times.
It is in a life of faith that we know that the Lord has been our refuge and that we can trust that He is always with us.