Readings: Philippians 2:12-18; Ps 26; Luke 14:25-33
Preachers and translators pull back from the word 'hate' in today's gospel reading. It is sometimes rendered 'prefer to me' or 'more than me'. But Jesus as recorded by St Luke is more radical and uncompromising on this necessary detachment if people are to follow him, than he is on the dangers of riches. In fact they are two aspects of the same thing. In spite of the tenderness and compassion of Jesus as we get to know him in Luke's gospel, there are these radical warnings as well, about riches, and about the need to hate even your own life if you want to follow him.
Jesus is not a purveyor of middle class values although he has sometimes been turned into that. He is not here to endorse the world as it is understood by those who are following him. He is strange and different. His call is not to us to find a place for him in our world - fit him in somehow alongside the other relationships and activities in which we are involved. His call is to us to follow him into his world where he has found a place for us. The call is not to squeeze him and his message into our world and what is acceptable to it - although, again, this is often what has been done. He calls us to follow him into his strange, new world.
Luke's gospel is the gospel of great reversals: hate those you are inclined to love; love those you are inclined to hate; first last, last first; humble exalted, exalted humbled; rich man and Lazarus; Pharisee and publican; elder brother and prodigal son. How can one be his disciple, then? It seems too difficult, too paradoxical, even a bit weird. How is one to anticipate the cost of following him, as the man does who wants to build a tower? How prepare sensibly to follow him, as the man does who decides to go out to battle? What he teaches us about the tower-builder and the war-maker is that they make preparations that are 'only sensible' if that is the kind of thing they want to do. In the case of following Jesus, what is 'only sensible' if we are preparing to follow him? Here is what you must do, he says: renoucne all you have, bear your own cross, hate what you are inclined to love, even your own life.
One thing is very clear here, in chapter 14 of St Luke's gospel. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. He is to be rejected by our world which cannot find a place for him, which finds his message too strange, too difficult, too puzzling. There are still 'great crowds' following him but this is not going to continue for much longer. We will spit him out. But that spitting out of Jesus by the world opens the way for the greatest reversal of all, the resurrection. Things are well and truly broken open, the world is turned upside down and inside out.
We are called to follow him into that mystery of the Great Reversal, the mystery of his death and resurrection. In being baptised, declaring ourselves Christian, we have taken it as the pattern of our lives, the criterion by which we will evaluate everything about ourselves, our experiences, our intentions, our motives, our relationships, our actions. Participating in the Eucharist means allowing this mystery of the Great Reversal to enter more deeply into us, tasting already (along with our fathers and mothers, wives and children, brothers and sisters, who share our faith) the gifts of the new world that is coming.
Inevitably we domesticate Jesus, turning him into a harmless pupply, a moralist at our disposal. Just as we domesticate God. His talk of hatred in today's gospel serves then to keep us awake, alert, uncertain, watching out for our God who is wild and free, ever new and creative in His infinite Love.