12 October 2013Matthew 10:34 – 11:1
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (vv. 37-39)
These final instructions to Jesus' disciples make difficult reading in an age and culture when Christianity has become associated with family values. This passage, for example, would make difficult reading for any church on Mothering Sunday or on Fathers' Day!
There is a seriousness about the good news here which it is tempting to gloss over in our anxiety to be family-friendly. But the good news is only good if we are willing to live a sacrificial life which does not put ourselves and our families and people like us at the centre, but puts at the centre God's values and all whom God loves.
This is not an excuse to neglect our families on the grounds that we are doing the Lord's work. Rather, just as we are to love others on the same basisas we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39) so we are to love our families on the same basis that we love the families of those with whom we perhaps feel little connection or sympathy. The basis on which we are to love ourselves and others, is the basis on which God loves us. In the twelfth century St Bernard put it like this: we must move from loving ourselves for our own sake, through loving God for our own sake, to loving ourselves for God's sake. Loving ourselves and our loved ones for God's sake enables us to broaden our circle of concern to include even our enemies (Matthew 5:44), though sometimes on the journey of learning to love as God loves we shall make enemies, even of those we love most. This is losing our life that we may find it (verse 39).
These are hard last words for the apostles to hear before Jesus sends them out and goes on his own way (verse 11:1). Jesus points to his own death (verse 38) and the fact that he will have to leave his own mother and any chance of sons and daughters behind. Perhaps these words are a test to see how far these probationary apostles have come along the road of learning to love as God loves.
- Family conflict is something most people experience. Sometimes religious faith is the cause. How do Jesus' words here sit with your own experience and beliefs about the relationship between love of family and love of God?
- What sense does it make to you that only in losing your life will you find it? How might you explain this to someone unfamiliar with the Christian story?
- These instructions, as Matthew's Gospel records them, are for those ready to be sent out as ambassadors for the faith and are not addressed to the crowds. Are some aspects of the Christian faith not for beginners? Why? If so, what might they be?