Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time-A
Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Hardly words of instruction that make us feel warm and fuzzy all over. They are words, however, which elicit a reaction from the listener. Either we reject the teaching whole cloth or scratch our heads to circumvent the meaning. How can Jesus expect us to love God more than our loved ones, all along with the threat of losing our place in his Kingdom?
We have repeatedly been taught that God is all-merciful, all-loving, and all-forgiving. We just read that God makes us choose between our fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. Why must there be such a choice at all? Can we not love our families and friends but still love God the way we love our spouse, children, and parents equally?
You see, my bias is exposed by already misinterpreting the phrase as it may have with you. Jesus says we are not worthy of the Kingdom when we love those in our orbit more than God. He is not insinuating we should not love those around us, but merely loving those people more than God is the problem. In a not-so-subtle way, Jesus is teaching us the meaning of love. This divine phenomenon was given to humans when they were created and is often misunderstood because of a tendency to view love from a gain-loss perspective. Erroneously, some people may think loving another person somehow takes away from their love for you. Quite the contrary, loving someone else often increases the love for all with no diminishment to either.
When Jesus says to love a father or mother more than God, he emphasizes how wrong our understanding of love can be. Sometimes what we call love is nothing more than control and selfish desires. That kind of love is not love at all because it does not represent the meaning of love which is to transcend, just as the Father’s love transcends to his Son, Holy Spirit, and all of creation. Love can never exist in a bubble; by its very nature, it has to move outward to another by our self-emptying.
For example, a mother with her first child loves that child, not knowing if she will have other children. And if she has another child, her love for the first is not diminished by her new love for the second, and so on. Nor does her love for her husband and parents evaporate when a new being to love is brought into the world. To think otherwise is to fall back into the gain/loss trap of so-called love.
Love is unique from all of our other experiences because it is inexhaustible. Because of its transcendental quality, love gives man a taste of eternity and an ultimate desire to be enveloped in that love which is life with God, who is love itself. No matter how much we may love those individuals, they cannot bring us eternal peace; only God has the power to quiet our deepest longings. Here lies the rationale for loving a God you cannot easily see. Through faith, our love is returned to God, who first and constantly bestows his love upon us.
That is not to say that our love for our fellow human beings is not important or necessary because participating in the Kingdom of God, which is love, must be a lived experience by those wishing to be part of the Kingdom of Love. Love is so personal, so much a part of our very being. It enlivens our life on earth as it will in heaven.
Love is the only thing we can truly give to God and others. We can, of course, give other things, but in reality, they are not ours to give. Some of us give from a surplus of our material goods, and some share from the very little we have, but no one owns anything outright. They are all gifts from God. We come into this world with nothing, and we leave this world with nothing. One thing a person can give totally if they wish is love for another and God. Love comes from the will, not from the emotions. Love is something we can choose to give or not give. Our love represents who we are or are supposed to be. The holy saints loved God and others deeply, while those who loved less might have loved themselves more.
Now is a good time to ponder how we love. Is our love given freely and without reservation, or do we control it for a perceived benefit? The notion of love can often mask selfishness. Our love is meant to be total self-giving, just as Jesus’ love was. There was no narcissistic desire on the part of the Son of God to have others love him; no, he died out of love for the best and the worst human being.
Jesus often reminds us that the kingdom is built upon love, that love is why all creation exists, and what our final destiny is. So, if we place love in a box like valuable jewels or condition and control it, entering into the Kingdom of Love becomes much harder. Maybe another way to say this is that anyone who places requirements on their love cannot begin to understand a kingdom, or a God, that loves freely and without any conditions.
Jesus finishes his teaching by saying, “Whoever finds his life” will lose it (a life where we control our love), and whoever loses his life” (a life open to the vast and infinite dimensions based on self-sacrificing love) “for my sake will find it.”
In finding that life, we will have found love that is never possessive or controlling; bountiful for father, mother, son, daughter, and of course, God.