For many of us family is so important. We may have even said, or had it said to us by our parents that “family comes first.” Jesus, however, gives us a huge challenge this weekend with a few lines from Matthew chapter 10.
He states that “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). St. Luke has a similar passage in his gospel that states, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Thankfully the use of the term “hate” is idiomatic and comes across a little stronger in english than its meaning. Its sense is “to love less.” Even though that is the case, it does not make things easier.
It is a challenge because it means making uncomfortable decisions sometimes. We will have to choose between doing what God would want us to do and the pressure that we have from family. Often times they will want us to do something contrary to God’s commands to make them happy.
I have had to council many people in various circumstances with very hard decisions. It is never easy, nor is every difficult situation black and white. I think the mode of operating for most of these situations these days though has become “keep the peace at all costs.” I agree with this on the condition that we are keeping the peace with the right person at all costs. These scripture passages remind us that our number one priority needs to be God and following after Christ. In order to be his disciple, we need to put Him and our relationship with Him above all other relationships. The reason for this, as Christ states in the above passages, is so that we might be worthy of Him and worthy of being called His disciple.
If you are anything like me, you have probably made decisions to cave to the familial pressures instead of following your conscience. Often we justify it because we do love them and want to make them happy. Yet, if we truly love them and want to make them happy, we need to help them to see that the decision we are making for God is also best for them and therefore loving. I think that we realize this with children, that not everything that they want is actually good for them and therefore, it makes sense that not everything they want is actually the loving thing for us to do.
There is a difficult balance to strike between living and sharing the truth with our families and loving them at the same time. There are many who want to staunchly uphold the truth, yet often do not present it with love. While we want to live in the truth, we cannot have truth without love, nor love without truth. Pope Benedict XVI states in his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (Charity in the Truth) that “without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to the contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word ‘love’ is abused and distorted to the point where it means the opposite” (CV para. 3). An Evangelical Pastor Warren Wiersbe once said that “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
We know from Scripture that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8) and that Jesus calls himself “the way the truth and life” (Jn. 14:6). God wants to help us to live the truth in love. The Spirit who “will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13) is given that we might know what God is asking of us and inspires us to act upon the truth with love. Taking up our cross and following after Christ is the daily struggle that we take up with God’s help. By it we arrive at God’s ultimate goal for us, which is eternal life with Him.
Along the way, by following his commands we live a much more fulfilled life, because we are living the truth as He created it to be lived. So let us place God first above all our other relationships and ask the Lord to lead us in all our discernment and decision making so as to be witnesses even in our families of living love in the truth.