Wow!!!!!!!! That’s quite a gospel. ……. I have to say that I’ve got bad news and I’ve got good news this morning. We just heard Jesus say:
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple..” That certainly sounds like bad news.
The good news is that the bad news really isn’t bad news. Think about it. Is Jesus telling us that we should hate the ones we should love the most? The answer is no. It was a common practice of teachers at the time of Jesus to exaggerate and use hyperbole to make a point. For instance Jesus said: If your eye causes you to sin, yank it out. If your hand causes you to sin cut it off.
The same Jesus, who tells us to love our enemies, is not telling us us to hate our families. The word “hate” here really means “to love less.” St. Matthew recorded Jesus words like this:
“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.”
So, Jesus was really saying, “Unless you love me more than anything or anyone, you cannot be my disciple. Which raises the question, how do we show our love for God? Jesus told us. “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.” That’s what Jesus said. So what does Jesus command?
On the night before he died, at his last supper on earth Jesus said this: “A new commandment, I give you that you love one another as I have loved you. “
How much does Jesus love us? He stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross and said this much. That’s Good News. It is the cross that explains how we are to love God, more than anything or anyone else. It is the cross that tells how we can love as Jesus loved. That’s why the other part of the Good News that we heard today are these words of Jesus.
“If anyone wants to be my follower, they must deny themselves, take up the cross daily, and follow me.” Taking up a cross refers to some suffering or sacrifice that you undertake voluntarily out of love for Christ and others. Taking up a cross is about love, and love is always good news.
On Thursday of this week many Christian denominations will be celebrating a feast day of the cross. It has different names. Holy Cross Day, or The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Triumph of the Cross, Holy Rood Day. Whatever it’s called the day is about the importance and the victory of the Cross of Christ. It is a time to honor Christ’s self-offering on the cross for our salvation.
Jesus went to the cross and died on the cross, for our salvation. Then he rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to the Church so that his work could continue.
St. Teresa of Avilla wrote this about the Church: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Pause.
So in our time, today: yours are the eyes to see with compassion the needs of our community and our world.
Yours are the lips to be used to speak words of peace and forgiveness to our community and our world.
Yours are the hands to break bread and feed the hungry of our community and our world.
Yours are the feet to walk for the good of others, to walk for justice, to walk for peace, to walk for a cure.
Yours are the arms Christ uses to uphold the weak, to lift up the fallen, to comfort the grieving.
We are the Body of Christ because of the grace of God. On our own we would not walk for the good of others. On our own we eyes would not look with compassion. On our own, our hands would be closed and our arms would not reach out to others.
The fact is that being the Body of Christ is not easy. As a matter of fact on our own we can’t do it.
But we are not on our own. We trust in God and our trust is always answered and it is always answered in love. These words are recorded in Mark’s Gospel. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them.”
And the Letter to the Hebrews says this “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
There will be times when we struggle to love as Christ loves us. There will be times when we fail and fall as we follow Jesus. But we can always trust that whatever happens Jesus will be empathetic and compassionate . We can always count upon Jesus to understand what it is to be human and imperfect.
In his book Mortal Lessons Notes on the Art of Surgery, Dr. Richard Selzer tells the story a couple who he visited in the hospital. It was after a surgery, during which he had to remove a tumor from the wife’s cheek. I think the story is a touching illustration of Christ’s compassionate love for imperfect people.
These are Doctor Selzer’s words: “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, somewhat clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, had been severed.
She will be this way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, the moment is a private one. Who are they, I ask myself. He and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at each other so generously, so lovingly?
The young woman speaks. ”Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. “Yes, I say, it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “It’s kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God moment.
Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”
In love, The Perfect God bent to kiss imperfect humanity when He died on the cross. That’s Good News.