Twenty -third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Faith is a Fundamental Option- God is the Foundation of Everything
First Reading (Wis 9:13-19):
Only the Holy Spirit can lead us to probe the things of heaven
However, Jesus did not want the crowds to misunderstand him so he listed the 'conditions' for following him. First, one must love Jesus more than one's parents, wife, brothers and sisters, even more than one's own life The Hong Kong Studium Biblicum translation even says 'hate' them. Second, one must bear one's cross and follow behind Jesus.
It should be noted that the word 'hate' here does not mean real hatred, because Jesus also tells us we must love and honor our parents and 'love our neighbor as ourselves'. God is a God of loving kindness, full of love for all people. God could not teach us to hate anyone, much less our family and relatives, or ourselves. .
Biblical language has its own characteristics. For example, it likes to use opposites when making comparisons, as 'love' compared to 'hate' to indicate that love is 'to love more' or 'to love less.' So in this Scriptural passage, some translations will render it ‘Those who wish to follow me must love me more than you love your parents... even more than you love your own life.’
Father and mother, brothers and sisters, are important people and one of God's commandments is to love them. But compared to loving Jesus, our love for them is secondary.
There is a story in “Yu Li Zi” called ‘The trouble is the Mice.’ In the story a man was plagued by mice in his house, so he brought in a cat to get rid of the mice. But besides the mice, the cat also caught and ate the chickens. The man's son was distressed at the loss of the chickens and wanted to do away with the cat. His father disagreed, saying, “My trouble is the mice. I do not care about not having any chickens.” The mice were the cause of the trouble, they had destroyed the family's whole livelihood and brought them great calamity. This was the cause of their downfall. Not having chickens was only a small loss in their lives. (1)
This is what is termed 'choosing options.'. It includes choosing and also 'letting go.' Or, it is better to say, we choose in order to let go (of something else). In relation to faith, we term this 'a fundamental option...'
Within life we all have some basic and important things which are our 'first priority.' They are the standard by which we measure other choices in life. For example, for some people money or power is their first priority, for those who 'love beauty more than life,' beauty is their first priority.
Once we have decided on the priorities in our life, then for the sake of that which is 'closest to our heart' we choose to let go of other less important matters. We give up the lesser ones in order to obtain the most precious one. Having achieved that, we do not feel distressed or deprived for relinquishing the less important things.
Mencius' “Let the fish go and choose the bear's paw’ or ‘Let life go and choose righteousness’(2) was this kind of option. He said, “I like fish and I also like bear's paws. If I cannot have the two together, I will let the fish go, and take the bear's paws. In the same way I like life and I also like righteousness. If I cannot keep both of them I will let go of life and choose righteousness.” (3)
Today's Gospel tells us that when we are talking about faith, our first priority is Jesus; for Him, we give up all other things. That includes our parents, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and our very selves.
But those who give up themselves entirely for Jesus, reach fulfillment
in life to the greatest extent. That is what Jesus meant when he said,
.”Those who find their life will lose
it, and those who lose their life for my sake with find it.”
My own father passed away in 1952 at the age of 46. My mother passed away in 2000 at the age of 87. I have 2 younger sisters and I am the only son. In 1956 when I entered the seminary, I can say I 'gave up' my mother and sisters (by that time my father was already deceased). At the time my mother was totally unable to comprehend my decision. However, I had close cousins and compared to their relationship with my uncle and aunt, my mother gradually began to realize that I was the one who paid the greatest filial respect. Only this “priest son” could be totally devoted to her. From beginning to end, I was her loyal and loving son.
I 'gave up' my parents, but I have loved, respected and remembered them throughout my life. For them I have offered my work and prayer and the Sacrifice of the Mass.