Remember when I pointed out that one scripture scholar once described this part of Luke’s Gospel as “Not Nice Jesus”? Well, we have more cause for that particular image of the Savior today: hate your family, hate your own life, and carry your cross! (At least, Mary must have taught her son that it was impolite to say “Shut up!”) These sayings in the mouth of a loving good shepherd tend to baffle us. And it was wise of the Church to put in our ears this weekend Wisdom’s question: “Who can know God’s counsel. Who could conceive what the Lord intends?”
At the same time we must own that we are not totally without understanding, when we put Jesus’ words in the context of making his way to Jerusalem for the last time and to the Cross. (Who wouldn’t be in a mood?) Actually, Jesus’ words here are not different from his teaching about remaining detached from the world in order to serve freely for sake of the Kingdom. There is a presumption in Jesus’ sayings that the father and mother we should hate, or our own lives that we should hate, are somehow working to pull us away from our mission to be “other Christs.” In other words, bad influence and temptation towards selfishness and evil are to be avoided at all costs.
In trying to live up to Jesus’ high expectations of us, we are not without his loving and caring help along the way, especially in providing good examples of how to do God’s will. I received such a gift of an inspiring life just recently in the person of our missionary priest, Fr. Jude Umeobi. After the 5:30 Vigil Mass, I had a chance to spend some time with him at El Pollo Loco (I couldn’t convince him to go to Der Weinerschnitzel). As we talked and I asked a lot of questions about his priestly life, family, and home—I realized I was in the presence of a man who heard Jesus words, “Leave all things behind, and come and follow me.” And even though it must be so hard for him to be so far away from everything he knows, he communicates a wonderful “inner peace” and an enviable confidence in knowing who he is and what his purpose in life is. Can you and I say the same about ourselves? Are we so sure of our discipleship? Has being a follower of Jesus cost us anything—really?
After all, it is about a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. St. Paul, interestingly, tells Philemon that he is sending “his child” (by spiritual adoption), not as a slave, but as a brother. One who leaves everything behind to serve does so best by coming from a place of love and devotion. This is freedom in discipleship personified and what, I believe, touched me about Fr. Jude Umeobi from the Diocese of Awka, Nigeria. Important to note: inner peace and freedom to serve is just as impressive when we are just a few miles from home, as it is if were thousands of miles from home. For the true follower of Jesus, the grace and power of discipleship and of carrying one’s cross is transcendent. It is how any prisoner can still claim to be free!