Date: Sunday, September 04, 2022
A great crowd is travelling with Jesus. He turns and addresses them. “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.” Do we hear him correctly? Is Jesus using the word “hate” as a precondition for being a disciple? St. Luke, our Evangelist, writes in Greek and he is using a Greek word to translate the Aramaic of Jesus. It is not an easy task trying to find the best English word that translates the Greek word that translates the Aramaic expression used by Jesus. Parishioners with some fluency speaking in Polish know how difficult it can be finding the closest English words to capture the meaning of the Polish word or idiom. Translations vary on the text of our Gospel. Some say, “without hating.” But others translate, “without disregarding” or “without putting aside” as coming closer to the meaning intended by Jesus. Whatever the translation it must convey the sense that Jesus is demanding total devotion above family loyalty and obligations.
Jesus himself clarifies what he means, the point he is making, with two illustrations. Which one of you would build a tower and start construction without calculating the cost? What king marches into battle facing an overwhelming force without first sending a delegation and suing for terms of peace? Jesus knows the crowd travelling with him has overestimated their dedication to be his disciples and has underestimated the cost of following Jesus. The cost is the cross! He says to them at the end of our Gospel, “Are you willing to renounce all your possessions and follow me?”
We must be willing to give up everything for Jesus. Earlier in the Gospel Jesus shocks us by saying that he has come not for peace but for division. Jesus is demanding greater dedication than we give to those dear to us. But there is a strange paradox. Once we give ourselves all to Christ, our love for father, mother, siblings, spouses, and children increases and deepens.
I just finished watching the movie “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” It is based on the diary of Antonina Żabiński. She is a devout, strict Catholic. Her husband Jan is Director of the Warsaw Zoo and a staunch atheist. After Poland is invaded and their zoo is bombed by Germany in 1939, Jan and Antonina make a very difficult decision that puts their own lives and their son and daughter at great risk. They make a commitment to shelter Jews, most escaping the doomed Warsaw ghetto, by hiding them in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these "guests," and human names for the animals, it's no wonder that the zoo's code name became "The House Under a Crazy Star.” As many as 300 such "guests" pass through the zoo, and many survive the war with the help of the Żabińskis' and the Polish underground. Antonina and Jan make a choice that is similar to what Jesus is asking of his disciples, i.e. to give up everything, to let go of everything for a higher purpose.
Alice Camille gave our Lenten retreat three years ago. She has authored three commentaries on our Sunday readings. She summarizes what Jesus is saying to us today. “Simply put, if you are not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can’t be my disciple.”