September 8, 2019 – Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
All children have one or two challenging personality traits they exhibit when they are young – selfishness, impulsiveness, stubbornness, and so on. In most cases, they eventually mature and grow out of it. Our children were no different.
Now, much to my delight, some of those challenging personality traits we saw in our kids are now showing up in their children. It is one of the secret joys of being a grandparent.
My daughter, Laura, shared the following story with me:
Her son Joey, my grandson, is four years old. He is a sweet little boy but can be strong-willed when things don’t go as he had planned. They went on a fun trip to the grocery together. After about twenty minutes, they were halfway through the shopping list when Joey decided he needed a particular item. Laura said, “not this time” and asked him to put it back.
She used the word “meltdown” to describe what happened next. He wanted it, refused to put it back, and put on quite a dramatic show.
If you are a parent, you can probably relate. You have most likely been through a similar situation – dragging your son or daughter kicking and screaming out of a store, restaurant, or movie theatre.
When it was clear the shopping trip had come to an abrupt halt, Laura tried removing Joey from the situation as quickly and quietly as possible. She tried taking his hand to no avail, and eventually chased him down and picked him up to physically remove him from the store. He is strong for a four-year-old and was doing his best to squirm out of her arms. To add to Laura’s embarrassment of being on a public stage for all to see, Joey was also yelling, “No! No!” as well as adding an occasional “You’re hurting me!” for good measure.
On the outside, I tried my best to be supportive and compassionate as Laura shared this story. But on the inside, I was remembering our little Laura driving us crazy with some sort of meltdown of her own, and this payback moment made me happy.
My favorite part of the story came when Joey added an entirely new level of embarrassment to the situation. As Laura was doing her best to get this screaming child out of the store, he yelled at the top of his lungs, “Someone please help me!”
Later that day, Laura sent me a picture of a smiling Joey helping her plant flowers in the garden. Under the picture she wrote, “There’s a lot more good than there is bad…and I love all of him!”
What a beautiful perspective, offering a profound message that speaks to what it means to be fully committed to someone.
I thought of her words as I prepared my homily on today’s gospel.
There are a handful of gospel passages that make me say, “I wish Jesus hadn’t done that” or “I wish Jesus hadn’t said that.” These passages make me uncomfortable.
For instance, I wish Jesus hadn’t overturned the tables of the moneychangers and driven them out of the temple. Couldn’t he have talked it over with them first, calmly expressing His point of view?
In the Gospel of Matthew, I wish Jesus hadn’t said, “I have not come to bring peace but the sword.”
Now we have today’s gospel. Jesus said, “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.” Later in the passage He adds, “…anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross…cannot be my disciple.” I wish Jesus hadn’t said any of those things.
I want to be his disciple, but I don’t want to hate my family, carry a cross, or renounce my possessions.
I want Jesus to say things like, “Let the children come to me” or “Love one another as I have loved you.” I want Jesus to talk about joy and peace.
I want Jesus to be peaceful, teaching us through parables and by His example. I don’t want Him to be aggressive or confrontational; it makes me uncomfortable. I desire the comfortable Jesus, not the Jesus that causes me to reflect, points out my weaknesses, or challenges me.
This type of narrow-minded thinking and second-guessing of the words and actions of Jesus help fuel the divisiveness among Christians.
Whether the argument is about general philosophy or about specific Church teachings, we often hear believers defend their particular perspective by saying, “Well, that’s not what my Jesus teaches” or “That’s not the Jesus I believe in.”
When our son broke ten house rules in a matter of minutes, I might temporarily disown him and say to Carol, “Your son is out of control.” Or when one of our kids was having a meltdown, we might turn to one another in frustration and ask, “Whose child is that?” However, that was just something we said. We knew they were our children – good, bad, and everything in-between. We were all in on our children, regardless of the challenges they presented us. As Laura said about Joey, “I love all of him.”
To base our faith on the Jesus that makes us feel good and push away the one that challenges us is naïve. There is not this Jesus or that Jesus. There is not my Jesus or your Jesus. There is not the “feel good” Jesus or the confrontational Jesus. There is one Jesus – fully human and fully divine. When we accept Jesus, we get all of Him and He expects all of us in return.
How do we reconcile these conflicting images we have of Jesus? The best way is to keep in mind this simple premise – whatever Jesus did or said came from a place of love.
He provides comfort, consolation, and warm acceptance because that is what we need sometimes. He subtly suggests that we need to improve in certain areas and offers us parables and teachings that will guide us because that is what we need sometimes. However, sometimes Jesus is more forceful and direct, coming at us with words that may seem harsh, challenging, or difficult to understand – but they come from that same place of love.
It is the same Jesus, offering us what we need, when we need it.
We return His love by accepting all that He offers us, accepting and loving all of Him. If His teachings seem harsh or challenge us, perhaps we need to look in the mirror. Do they seem harsh because they ring true? Do they point out a weakness in us that we would prefer to keep hidden? Do they push us out of our comfort zones? Do they call us to give up control…to trust?
Human nature causes us to gravitate toward things that make us feel good, but Jesus exists in His entirety.
Don’t pick and choose your favorite Jesus.
Commit to the one Jesus – the One that loves us as we need to be loved.