By: Rev. Fr. Orly Mendoza
TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
(Green) Cycle C/Year II (September 4, 2023)
Wis 9:13-18/Phlm 9-10, 12-17/Lk 14:25-33
The family is the basic cell of society. This is true not only for any nation or country but even with our Catholic Church. In fact, the family occupies a central place in the Church. For this reason, we consider the family as a Church, in particular, a domestic Church. While the Bible teaches us to love our family members and respect our parents, the Church encourages us to give importance to our families by bringing Christ to them and converting them into domestic Churches.
However, in the gospel for this Sunday, we may be surprised by these very words of Jesus Christ: “If any man comes to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). With this teaching of Jesus, it seems that we need to hate our family members just to be able to love Jesus and be worthy of Him as His disciples. The truth is that the gospel does not teach us to hate our family members since God wants us to love and respect them. In fact, the fourth of God’s Ten Commandments mandates that we honor our father and mother. And that is the very first commandment among the seven of the Ten Commandments for the love of neighbor.
Rather, the Gospel teaches us to love God more than anything or anybody. It instructs us to prioritize God in our lives, over our family, job, property, money, or ambition in life. It teaches us the truth that to become real disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to make Him the top priority in our lives. Thus, Jesus commands us to love God with all our heart, mind, and whole being, and to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven with the promise that all shall be given unto us.
Prioritizing God means loving everybody, including our family members, out of love for God. The truth is that we cannot actually love others without the love of God. It is because God is the One who capacitates us to love others because only He is Love. Thus, our love for our parents, children, siblings, wife, husband, or friends is not genuine love if such love does not come from God. For this reason, we need to love God first; we need to prioritize our love for God over our love for others. Hence, God’s first three of His Ten Commandments are all about the love for God and Jesus Christ’s greatest commandment is to love God.
However, when Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, mind, and whole being, He immediately added that the second is like it: to love our neighbor the way we love ourselves. Jesus connected the love of God with the love of neighbor so much so that we do not love God if we do not love our neighbor and we cannot love our neighbor if we do not love God. It is necessary to love God and to love God necessarily means loving our neighbor.
It is clear that if we love God, we cannot hate our neighbor because we not only must follow the commandment of God but also our love for God impels us to love our neighbor. Hence, when we hate somebody because of what that person did to us, our love for God somehow eclipses. For this reason, the Lord tells us that when we go to the altar to offer to God our prayers, and then we remember that we still have an enemy that we hate, we need to leave the altar first, go to such person and reconcile with him before going back to the altar. Hence, genuine love for God demands that we also love our neighbor and not hate him.
Jesus Christ demonstrated His love for God and neighbor by sacrificing His life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. On the cross, Jesus forgave His murderers by saying: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” Jesus did not hate them amidst His sufferings on the cross. God does not hate us despite the fact that we constantly offend Him due to our sins. Forgiveness then is the natural consequence of genuine love that comes from God. Let us love God with all our heart, mind, and being, and love our neighbor not only by helping those who are in need but also by forgiving those who have hurt us.