Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
June 30, 2002
2Kings4:8-11, 14-16; Rom 6:3-4,8-11; Mt 10:37-42
Jesus speaks of the worthy disciple in the Gospel.
There’s a difference between a worthy disciple and someone who merely bears the name Christian.
Just like there can be a father who is unworthy, one who doesn’t care for his wife and his children, so there can be an unworthy Christian, someone who is not worthy of the name.
So what criterion does Jesus give to be a worthy disciple?
He does not say that the worthy disciple was the one who was merely baptized. Although baptism makes one a child of God, it is not enough to constitute a worthy disciple.
Jesus does not say that the worthy disciple is the one who merely keeps the commandments, who doesn’t speak evil of anyone, doesn’t harm anyone, although of course the one who breaks one or more of the commandments would clearly not be a good disciple, a worthy disciple.
Jesus does not say that the worthy disciple is the one who merely comes to Mass, although one who does not come to Mass would clearly not be a worthy disciple.
Jesus does not say that the worthy disciple is one who prays each day, although someone who does not pray would not be a worthy disciple.
Jesus does not say that the worthy disciple is even someone who considers him important, who tries to live life in accordance with his teachings, although someone who considers Jesus unimportant and who pretends as if he is God rather than that God is God clearly would not be a good or worthy disciple.
Jesus gives us the criterion in today’s Gospel, and it is not an easy one. Listen to him again: “The one who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and the one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. The one who does not take up his Cross to follow me is not worthy of me.” In other words, to be a worthy disciple of Jesus means two things: first, to love him above all other loves, or, as he said elsewhere, with all our mind, heart, soul and strength; and second, to love him so much that we will be willing to suffer for him, taking up our Cross to follow him.
These are demanding standards, and they call us to examine our consciences today about whether we really are in truth worthy disciples of so great a Savior. We can examine both criteria.
The first criterion Jesus gives us is that we not love anyone or anything more than we love him. To be worthy disciples, we have to love him more than we love our parents, more than we love our children or grandchildren, more than we love our spouses, more than we love our jobs, more than we love sports, more than we love anything. Now the love that Jesus is talking about is not just some type of feeling, but love is a choice, a choice to give of ourselves to someone. Jesus taught us about what real love is during the Last Supper and on Good Friday, when he said and showed that real love is laying down one’s life for one’s friends, giving of oneself to another. We know this in human love. Real human love, like of spouses for each other or of parents for children, involves more than the words, “I love you,” but means giving of yourself to them, making the sacrifices necessary to improve their lives and help them. Therefore to love God above everyone and everything, we have to give ourselves to God more than to anyone else. We have to make sure that God isn’t just “important” in our lives — among many other important people — but the “most important” and in fact “all-important.” Otherwise we’re really not loving him appropriately. In another part of the Gospel, Jesus uses even stronger language. He says that “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). In the Hebrew Language, to “hate” doesn’t mean what we mean by it in English or in Portuguese, but it means to make sure that those that are “hated” do not become “gods,” do not take up the place of the one who is loved.
Therefore we need to examine whether we’re loving God first, whether we’re putting him first, whether we’re his worthy disciples. There are many people who are good people, who earn our respect, who think that they’re worthy disciples of the Lord, but they don’t really love him above all other loves. I see this very often with married couples, including good married couples in love. When we read in the Gospel the episode when the Sadducees asked him to which of seven successive husbands would a woman belong, that there is no longer any human marriage in the after life, many Christians become sad. They cannot imagine a heaven, a place of eternal happiness, where they are no longer married. The reason why Jesus says that there is no marriage in heaven is because in heaven we will all love God perfectly, love him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and love others fully in him. There will no longer be any exclusive love between two human beings as there is in marriage here on earth, because we all love God exclusively. This is what heaven is, to experience the power of God’s love for us and to love him in return with everything we are and have. If someone here on earth loves a spouse, however, more than God, this notion of heaven might not be a happy one, because their “heaven” here on earth exists not in the love of God but in “marital love.” This is what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel today. To be his worthy disciple, our “heaven” here on earth must be our relationship of love with him, and our goal on earth must be to grow in love of him, through marriage, through family, through work and through human life, bringing others to him as well.
Practically speaking, therefore, if we’re loving God above every other love, we’ll be giving ourselves to God more than to anyone else or to anything else. We’ll be giving ourselves to God, putting him first, with our time, with our talents, with our money and with our choices. Practically speaking, how much time do we give to God each day and each week? Lots of people say that they don’t have time to pray. But if we have time to talk to our spouses or friends, but not time to talk to God, we’re not worthy disciples. We love them more than we love him. If we have time to watch television or listen to the radio everyday but don’t make time to pray, we love television and the radio more than God. If we make time everyday to eat and to sleep, but don’t make time for God, we love eating and sleeping more than God. If we make time to work, but don’t make time to come to Mass, we love something else more than we love God. We have to be very practical about this. It’s the same way with our talents. Do we use our talents and time to help out God and the Church he founded, to spread the Gospel and build up the Church? God has given each one of us particular talents, but do we use them for our own benefit or for others? In this parish, less than 10% of the people do 90% or more of the work. Those 10% are really using their talents as God intends, but the other 90% are not giving of themselves, are not loving, God with their talents above all things. As we get ready for Renew, every parishioner is going to be asked to make a time commitment to participate in small Christian communities. One night per week, to get together with others to pray in someone’s home. Many people are not going to want to do this. After a days worth of work, we would prefer to relax, rather than to go pray. But this will be a very good indication to each one of us about whether we love God as a worthy disciple or not. A worthy disciple, who loves God first and above all, will participate in these small Christian communities. Thirdly with our money. I know that sometimes Catholics get nervous when priests start talking about money, but we need to love God first with our money too. 100% of our money comes as a blessing from God, but how much do we give him back? The average Catholic gives about 1% back to God. If a Catholic were giving to God one hour of work per week, he would be giving 2.5%. So that means that the average Catholic would give to God only one hour of work every two-and-a-half weeks. Many Catholics give less to God per week than they spend a day on candy and sweets. If we want to be a worthy disciple of the Lord, we need to be generous with him. Finally, we have to love God in all our choices. In every choice we make, we need to ask not so much “What do I want?” but “What does God want?” We need to serve God in every choice we make, even our private choices.
This type of love that God demands of us is not easy. Jesus never pretended that it was. Right after saying that the one who loves anyone or anything more than him is not worthy of him, said that whoever does not pick up his cross to follow him is not worthy of him. Loving God means sacrifice, just like his love of us demanded a sacrifice, a gift of himself. But God can strengthen us and will strengthen us. God loved us so much that he sent his only son to give his life so that we might live forever. In this Mass, Jesus gives of himself in love to us again, saying, “This is my body given for you.” We pray before receiving him, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” God wants to say that word, to make us worthy to receive him. But it involves our truly loving the Lord above everything, to say in response to him, “Lord Jesus, this is my body, this is my life, given for you.”