Should we hate anyone? Today’s Gospel, from Luke 14:25-33, offers us a whole group of people to hate: “If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and sisters, indeed his very self, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26). We might ask if we have read this correctly?   

Are we expected to call our relatives and tell them they have seen the last of us, “good riddance.” Anyone familiar with the Gospels knows that is not the answer. The Gospels are about love.

Luke’s Gospel itself gives us Jesus’ teaching how widespread our love for others should be, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Lk 6:27). In this Gospel, Jesus instructs us, “Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lk 10:27). At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says that we should imitate the Good Samaritan who cared for the man who had been attacked by thieves, “Go and do likewise”(Lk 10:37).

Why does this Gospel use such strong language which if we took it literally would make us not Jesus’ disciples but monsters? Footnotes in the Bibles quickly assure us that the Gospel does not mean “hate” but not preferring others to Jesus or “total detachment.”

Matthew (19:29) and Mark (10:29) speak of leaving father and mother for My sake. Is Luke too strong? One Bible describes these words as a “Hebraism,” a Semitic way of speaking strongly that clearly gets the point across. Jesus used this way of speaking known as “hyperbole,” in some of the parables.

There is a reason why it is helpful. Many of us have a casual way of following Jesus so that He is often on the back burner and our attention is on something else cooking on the front burners. If we tone down Jesus’ words so that they mean “not preferring” something to Jesus, we might think we would never do that. By speaking strongly, Jesus startles us and makes us wonder if being a disciple really is our priority.

St. Thomas Aquinas himself underwent a dramatic challenge to his vocation as a Dominican friar. His family expected that he would become a respectful monk in an established monastery. When he became a Dominican friar the family was greatly disturbed. The Dominicans were a new order, who sustained themselves by begging. His brothers, who were soldiers, arranged to have him kidnapped and he was kept under virtual house arrest for a year until the family realized that they would not be able to break his spirit. Interestingly, Thomas always maintained good relationships with his family, even after this experience.

Today, September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa has been canonized. She was born in Albania in 1910. At 18 years old, she traveled to Ireland in order to join a community that had a mission in India. After teaching in the community schools in India for some years, in 1950, Mother Teresa became convinced that God was calling her to live among the poor and attend to their needs. She left her community and founded a new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. Each step of the way must have brought difficulties for Mother Teresa yet she tried to respond to Jesus’ call.

During the canonization Mass for Mother Teresa, Pope Francis explained that the meaning of today’s Gospel is to do what pleases God, to do the will of God. And the Pope stated simply, “The will of God is to love.”

Jesus calls disciples to follow Him with a total commitment. A half-hearted commitment would be like someone who undertakes a building project but cannot complete it or someone who starts a war but can’t carry it through.

What God desires us to do is to love. The Gospel raises questions regarding our love for others and even our love for ourselves. Thomas Aquinas makes some distinctions: “We love our neighbor that he or she may be in God… It is specifically the same act whereby we love God and whereby we love our neighbor. Consequently, the virtue of charity extends not only to the love of God but also to the love of neighbor” (2a2ae. 25, 1).[1]

At times, we give some people a priority that belongs to God, which is the issue raised in today’s Gospel. Thomas reflects: “It would be wrong if a person loved his neighbor as though that person were his last end, but not, if he loved the person for God’s sake, and this is what charity does” (2a2ae. 25, 1, ad 3).

With regard to loving ourselves, Thomas comments: “The love with which a person loves himself is the form and root of friendship. For if we have friendship with others, it is because we do to them as we do to ourselves” (2a2ae. 25, 4).

We love ourselves because God loves us: “Among these other things which he loves out of charity because they pertain to God, he loves himself out of charity” (2a2ae. 25, 4).

Some religious people have treated their bodies harshly. Thomas recalls the Manicheans who considered only the spiritual aspects of a person as good and the physical parts as evil:

“The nature of our body was created not by an evil principle, as the Manicheans pretend but by God. Hence we can use it for God’s service, according to Romans, ‘Present … your members as instruments of justice to God’ (Rom 6:13). Consequently, out of love of charity with which we love God, we ought to love our bodies also; but we ought not to love the evil effects of sin … we ought rather, by the desire of charity, to long for the removal of such things (2a2ae. 25, 5).

When Thomas reflects whether we should love sinners, he must mean notorious sinners, although the same principle applies to ourselves: “According to his nature, which he has from God, he has a capacity for happiness, of which the fellowship of which charity is based. Therefore we ought to love sinners, out of charity, in respect to their nature. It is our duty to hate in the sinner, his being a sinner, and to love in him, his being capable of bliss; and this is to love him truly out of charity, for God’s sake (2a.2ae. 25, 6).

Thomas adds: “We love sinners out of charity, not so as to will what they will, or to rejoice in what gives them joy, but so as to make them will what we will, and rejoice in what rejoices us” (2a2ae. 25, 6, ad 4)

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

 


[1] References to Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, in this case, the second part of the second part, the question, in this case, question 25, and the article, in this case, article 1. If the answer is a reply to an objection that Thomas has raised in the beginning of the article, the Latin word, ad (meaning “to”), is given after the article.