Meditation of the Most Rev. Pizzaballa for Sunday, September 4
September 4, 2016
Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
In biblical language, loving concerns not so much – or only – the emotional sphere; loving is something more, something different, it’s an experience that binds one’s life to another. Nor does it mean to just have feelings, but rather to enter into the logic of a bond with a person of whom one recognizes the authority to live one’s life, and to whom one leaves space inside him/her.
Because of this, love changes existence deeply, it redesigns identity: you no longer exist without the other.
Just think of the expression of St. Paul – stated in the letter to Galatians – where St. Paul speaks of himself in this way: “I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me! The life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Love is an experience through which the one that you love “lives inside you”, and you become the other’s memory in you. In this way, life becomes listening, obedience, faithfulness.
If we don’t understand this, it becomes difficult to understand deeply the passage of today’s Gospel.
Jesus is speaking to the crowds that follow Him and twice (vv.27, 33) He explains that these teachings concern the way to become his disciples.
And because we can become His disciples, the Lord redesigns the order of relationships, saying that one cannot follow Him who does not love Him more than he loves father, mother, other family members, but also who does not love Him more than he loves his very self.
Often the translations render this passage of the Gospel with the expression “does not love more” (Whoever does not love Me more than father or mother… cannot be my disciple). In fact in the Gospel there is a stronger expression: hate (who does not hate father or mother… he cannot be my disciple…).
It is a strong term, one that challenges us: what does Jesus mean?
Let us make two propositions.
The first is from the context of the preceding paragraph (Luke 14:15-24) in the passage where Jesus tells the parable of the wedding guests who do not accept the invitation, citing pretensions related to their family ties or to their work: I’m getting married, I have to take care of oxen, I need to see a field that I bought…
So those invited, too occupied with their affairs and their loved ones, do not come to the wedding, because they love their possessions more than Him who invited them.
The second we deduce from the logic that inspires the Gospel in general: it is clear that Jesus never misses an opportunity to announce – and live – a new way of love, free and unconditional, for all.
And, by glancing through the text, we see that the word “hate” in the Gospels is used basically in two ways: either to go beyond (“you have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:43-44), or in the passive sense, to talk about the hostility to which the disciples will be subjected (“you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” Luke 21:17).
It is clear that Jesus does not at all ask anyone to hate. But the fact that Luke uses this word means something to us; he speaks to us of the absolute radicalism that the encounter with the Lord demands from our lives: His love, when it irrupts in a person’s heart, can become the central event, the ultimate reference, that which illuminates and gives meaning to everything else. Not one among others…
And it cannot be otherwise.
No other bond can ever have the same prominence, nor can it ever be “all”. Only God’s love will be absolute: if someone else will take His place, he will be an idol that will tie me to himself and enslave me.
Therefore the bond with Him is to be acknowledged as first and foremost, as the one that continually shapes our identity, as the only one capable of really giving life; and, then, to make it the foundation of one’s own existence, to make a radical choice of His person, taking on fully, in that choice, His thoughts, feelings, and values; assuming the “upside-down logic”, until being crucified with Him, as St. Paul says.
This is why Jesus adds right here the invitation to take up one’s cross: by cross he does not mean so much the burden of suffering which life brings with it, as much as a way of love that knows how to give up possessing the other, that renounces every pretense that the other fills in life, a love that is free.
Loving in this way is to let oneself be wounded; it is to remain empty, in anticipation, in suspension: it is a crucified love. Loving in this way creates a free and open space within oneself, able to love everyone: and that’s really what the Lord wants for us, that we open ourselves to the experience of a greater love.
But this is impossible in our strength, therefore, Jesus tells two parables: that of the man who wants to build a tower and that of the King who leaves for war. Both, in embarking on their venture, do well to verify if they have the ability to bring it to completion.
But the paradox of the parables is that to cope with the undertaking, they ought not so much have an abundance of means, as much as to be without them: to follow the Lord, to love as He loves, requires “only” that poverty of heart that makes room for the Lord, that entrusts to Him one’s love. All the rest will be given besides.
We see how the impossible became a reality in the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who today will be canonized by Pope Francis in Rome: those who allow themselves to catch hold of and possess the love of Christ free the heart from every attachment that makes life small, and enters into an infinite extended family.
They receive one hundredfold in brothers, sisters, children, houses, and become an instrument of salvation for those who do not have brothers, sisters, children, houses…
As for the dying man at the end of life, found in the sewers on the edge of the city, that the Sisters of Mother Teresa pick up; they bring him home, wash him, dress him, and care for him. And he, before dying, says this: “I have always lived like a wretch, I am dying like a king.”
The one who loves like this opens himself to the experience of a crucified love.