In this gospel, Jesus concludes his instructions to the disciples by telling them that relationship with Him is above any other relationship. If the disciples choose family before Him, then the person is not a disciple and cannot have any part of the life Jesus offers.
Next week He declares that he is meek and humble of heart…He is the same person so what do we have to understand here?
If we leave the stark dramatic impression aside, and without putting mild words in His mouth to soften the effect of His words, relationship with Jesus and with God is the fundamental relationship for a disciple. Family bonds are not denied, they are wonderful or can be, a family is where we live and gain our identity.
Yet, the bond with Jesus and with the One who sent Jesus into our world takes precedence. The early Christians, Matthew was writing 45 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, were sometimes alienated from their families because they had become Christian and opted for a new way of life.
For some the breakdown of relationships was final, in reading about the canonization of John Henry Newman, his sister never spoke to him again after he converted to Catholicism. The reality of baptism and understanding that the act of being baptised made a person a new creation and a member of the body of Christ was a new reality, a new family for people who follow John Henry Newman’s path, the Church was a new family.
Why would anyone change their religion or take on Christianity if it can cause so much trouble? The other elements in this gospel mention that the Christian is to lead a life of self-sacrifice, living unselfishly and open to rejection.
People do it because they find life and meaning in this new relationship with Jesus Christ which makes everything worthwhile. The value of knowing Jesus Christ is displayed in the letters of St Paul who spoke of Christ’s life in him was like living a new life. In other words, the cost of discipleship is balanced by the providence of God.
Some people in our secular society believe that such behaviour is worth a visit to a psychiatrist or a psychologist because it makes no sense. It almost seems like a kind of psychological self-mutilation. Yet the experience of God in our lives, for those who have experienced it, is unforgettable; it leads us through difficulties and tough times.
Jesus takes us seriously and in inviting us to be with him expects us to take him and his words and his way of life seriously.
He invites to be involved in his mission. We are part of a process still unfolding. Disciples are representatives of Jesus, who is a representative of the One who sent Him. People who are influenced by the disciples will receive their reward too. Some will become disciples and become members of a new family of God.
Columban Fr Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.