Give it up!

    Jesus said many shocking things; one of the most shocking was this: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and even his own life too, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). "Hate" father, mother...? This word hardly suits Jesus. This is a deeply puzzling statement, and we have to look carefully at it. A scholar writes, “The Semitic mind [Jesus was a Semite] commonly associated opposing pairs of words, without distinguishing intermediate shades of meaning. ‘To hate’ could signify ‘to love less.’“ (He gives examples of this usage: Gen 29:31; Deut 21:15; Mt 5:43; Jn 12:25.) Many modern translations of these and similar passages substitute some other word for ‘hate’. So the strange verse is not telling us to hate our fathers and mothers, but not to give them precedence over justice love and truth.
    Are real Christians extremists, then? Yes, if you mean that they take the most important thing in the world and put themselves wholly behind it. Moderation doesn't mean never going to any extreme; it means not going to false extremes. There is no limit to the effort we are to put into living the Christian life. St Paul's manner of speech was very forthright: “Fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.” You couldn’t imagine him saying instead, “Do take a little interest in what's going on in the Church, holding onto a bit of faith, and try to be nicer to people!” Other creatures put everything they have into what they do. Domesticated animals so often look listless; but look at the wild ones. Even little ones…. Yesterday I had a close view of a bird singing. What energy he put into it! He was singing, body and soul; there was nothing in him that wasn’t singing. He wasn’t singing because it was expected of him, nor because he wanted to be popular, nor because he was drunk…. He was singing, pure and simple. I was made aware immediately of how I hang back in the very act of doing things, how I put only part of myself into what I do. This is more or less what we call ‘normal’. How hard it is to be pure and simple! Every creature can be our teacher.
    When we were very small children we lived fully! We put everything we had into everything we did. We didn’t think about ourselves. If someone put a mirror in front of us we wouldn’t even recognise ourselves. But soon the fatal limiting began. We begin to be self-conscious and to worry about ourselves, we begin to have a distinctive character. It is a kind of armour around one; the more character you have, the more you are limited. There is a kind of infinity about a small child - everything is welcome, everything is possible - but we learn to hang back and to limit ourselves more and more. You will occasionally meet an adult who is unable to be part of anything and whom nothing can please.
    So when we meet someone who is very like a child - Jesus, who told us we too should become like children - we think he’s an extremist. No, he’s just alive! That's what makes him different from me!
Being alive, he breathes! He receives deeply and gives deeply. “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands” (John 3:35). And “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). It was this same Jesus who said to us, ‘Give up everything!’
    I've met other child-like people too. A Japanese Zen Master, who had little English, was giving instruction in meditation. He just said, “Sit there, and give up everything!”




Donagh O'Shea OP

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.