Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Psalm 112:1B-2, 4-5, 9
Happy are those who fear the Lord,
who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;
they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn is exalted in honor.
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
We find a paradox in today’s scriptures, as St. Paul, quoting Jesus Himself, tells us that the way to fulfill the law is to love one another while Jesus Himself tells us that being a disciple entails hating our loved ones. How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? And what can we learn about discipleship from this extreme language Jesus is using?
First, the Hebrew language does not indicate comparison or degrees the same way as does English. We might say that we prefer one thing to another, or love something or someone more, to indicate that they are in the same category but there is a difference of degree. In Jesus’s time and in Jesus’s language, comparisons were not expressed as matters of degree but as opposites, to highlight the difference between them. So when He says to hate family and even life itself, the meaning is that these wonderful gifts are not to be loved in the highest degree; that degree belongs to God only. For if we love these people and these things appropriately, we are fulfilling the law. But if we love anything more than God, we can never be all in as disciples and therefore, cannot be disciples.
Why is it so essential for a disciple to be all in? Jesus compares the endeavor to building a tower or waging war. To be a disciple is to build the kingdom of God; metaphorical towers, that demand no less labor or resources than physical towers. If we’re not all in to follow Jesus, if we prefer anything in our lives or anyone to that, we won’t have the resources. The war analogy is similar. To be a disciple is to wage war with enemies of God - the world, the devil, and the flesh - to claim salvation for ourselves and our brothers and sisters. And opposing these enemies and attaining this goal requires single-mindedness and commitment of everything.
Finally, to be a disciple is to love the things Jesus loves and do the things Jesus does. To take up our cross, and sacrifice our lives and our possessions for the love of our Lord and each other. To allow divine love to replace our smaller, self-interested loves. To let go of the person we think we are and become who we were made to be.
Is there anything I love or hold onto, even good things, that are keeping me back from being “all in” for Jesus? In what ways may Jesus be asking me to take up my cross and follow? How can I love the things Jesus loves and do the things Jesus does?
Today, let’s spend time in prayer with Jesus and ask for the grace to love Him more, and to let go of anything standing in the way of relationship with our Lord, the call to discipleship, and loving others as Jesus loves them.