There are hardly any words in all the gospels more blunt than the stark ones Jesus proclaims in Luke’s 14th chapter. Is He really telling me there to hate my father and mother, my own family and my own life? To give up everything I own? To search out some painful cross and then carry it? Is He serious?
For an answer, it’s important to zero in on exactly what the Savior is serious about. We know it can’t be hating; He’s all about love. It can’t be disparaging the things of creation; His Father is the Creator. And it can’t be suffering for the sake of suffering; that’s masochism and not religion.
What Jesus is serious about can be caught in the sense of the word prioritizing; i.e., lining up what’s more important and less important, and then living out those priorities.
No doubt that Jesus has definite priorities and that He’s asking His followers to take them up. Topping the list of course is love, loving God His Father and also each other. Whatever gets in the way of genuine loving is to be put aside and slotted into second place.
Jesus is using the shock value of these words — hate, renounce, suffer — to give graphic underlining to the things that count most in His Father’s Kingdom and in the world of His own Beatitudes.
Priorities. The place to which they always lead is the trail of choice, that ledge from which we make decisions about how to live and move in our lives both personally and societally. In relating to another, which option will be more beneficial to him or her? In sizing up cultural and political options, which ones serve the greater human good, especially for the invisible ones out on the margins?
This Kingdom-of-God-prioritizing acts to rescue our faith out of the clouds of abstraction and down into the gritty realm of everyday action and behavior.
As a for-instance, which claim do I judge to be more important, the growth of my own nest egg, or the life-and-death needs of homeless families? Which gets the greater attention, the shoring up of my own reputation, or telling a truth that might not show me in the best light? To which do I give greater importance, staying calm and insulated above the turmoil of society’s inequalities, or taking the time and risk to do things to rebalance them?
In their service of the poor done in Christ’s name, members of Vincent’s Family repeatedly face the kinds of choices Vincent himself did as he too struggled to heed those stark verbs coming from the mouth of the Lukan Jesus.
With those other listeners through the ages, we stand before The Lord and hear those searing words setting out the choices to be made around the “priorities” of his Father’s Kingdom? In a given situation, which counts more and which counts less? What are the options a believer faces? Or in a phrase made famous by the Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, what is “the cost of discipleship?”