SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  WIS 9:13-18; PHIL 9-17; LK 14:25-33 ]

The gospel reading today seems rather harsh and impossible to accept.  For according to Jesus,discipleship requires that we give up everything and everyone for Him.  Indeed, Jesus told the crowd who wanted to follow Him that if we want to be His disciples, we must first hate our father, mother, wife, children and brothers; in other words, all the people that we love dearly and most.  But that is not all; we are also to hate ourselves as well.  As if that is not all, Christ demands that we give up all our possessions.  At face value, such exacting conditions for following Christ would seem not only impossible to fulfill but also ludicrous as well.

Before we write off the words of Jesus as utter nonsense, we need to reconsider them carefully.  We begin by considering the first condition of Jesus; which is to hate all our loved ones.  Now why did Jesus ask us to hate our loved ones?  As we all know, between hate and love, there is only a thin line.  Those we hate are really those we love; and those we love would turn out to be those whom we hate.  What is worse than hate is actually indifference.  When we are indifferent to someone, that someone does not even exist in our sight and on our mind.  But when we love someone or hate someone, that person is constantly on our mind.  Thus, if Jesus asks us to hate our loved ones, it is not so much to keep them away from our minds, but to be totally detached from them, though not to the extent of being indifferent.  To hate is simply a way of Jesus asking us to love in a detached manner.  A better word would be compassion.  In other words, we are called to love without attachment.  Hence the word ‘hate’ is used in relation to love.

Within this context the picture is now clearer.  The truth is that if we love our loved ones in a slavish manner, then we make ourselves slaves to our loved ones.  As if that is not enough, we will also try to make them slaves of us.  That is why lovers and spouse quite often try to manipulate each other.  When they are insecure in themselves, they will play the guilt game so that their partners will feel responsible towards them.  How often do we hear couples controlling each other’s life to the extent that life becomes stifling and crippling, so much so that love becomes impossible, since love is only possible in freedom?  In forcing someone to love us, we immediately lose that love.   This is the paradox of love.  Isn’t it true that those who are stifled in relationships feel extremely relieved when that relationship has ended?

When we love people without enslaving them, we make it possible for them to love us.  Because they are free to go and free to stay, they would not feel pressurized into loving us.  Without any obligations to love, we can be certain that their love for us would be free, unconditional and genuine.  Only such kind of love can truly be liberating both for the lover and the loved.  Thus when Jesus asked us to hate our loved ones, He was simply asking us to love them in such a manner so that such love, especially among family members and friends, would be real, strong, lasting, joyful and liberating. When we are not loved unconditionally or freely, there is no way of finding happiness in life.  This is the way God loves us and this must be the way we love others as well.  So in order to love, we must hate.  This is the fact of life.  We must love in a detached manner.  So this is the first condition of following Jesus.

The second condition laid down by Jesus was that we must hate ourselves.  Again on the surface, such a demand is simply intolerable.  How can we be happy if we hate ourselves?

The truth is that when we love ourselves, we actually hate ourselves.  People who are too concerned about themselves will end up hurting themselves.  Ego-centered and self-centered people cannot be happy.  Happiness must be shared if it is to be genuine.  The consequence of selfishness is that we would be left alone by ourselves.  People would avoid, hate or make use of us. They would see us as their competitors.  We will also feel miserable within ourselves.  Due to our obsession with oneself, we become paranoid, fearful, insecure and anxious.  We begin to imagine that everyone is against us and a threat to our happiness.  This will lead to further scheming and manipulation.  Eventually, we will make even more enemies.

However, when we stop loving ourselves, that is, when we are not too concerned about our needs and instead focus on others, we begin to love ourselves.  In forgetting about ourselves, we have no self to worry about.  When there is no ego, no self, then there are no problems, since worries and problems do not exist in the abstract but are attached to our ego.  Consequently, in loving others, we begin to find the real meaning of life.  We experience true love, which is loving and being loved in return.  So in forgetting ourselves, we actually find ourselves in others.  Yes, this is the paradox of life.

That is why we must always remember that to find oneself is to lose oneself.  God never gives to us but through us.  We cannot love ourselves directly.  We can only love ourselves indirectly.  We can love ourselves only through loving others and being of service to others.  But when we try to love ourselves directly, we become our own prisoners and we lose all joy and happiness in life.  Narcissism will lead to self-destruction because the worship of self is the worship of false gods, of nothingness.  Hence, we can now see the truth of Jesus’ teaching: to hate self is to love self authentically.

Lastly, we examine the third condition of Jesus, which is the giving up of all our possessions.  What is the reality behind our possessions?  Isn’t it true that the more we cling to our possessions, the more we are possessed by them?  Instead of being master over things we allow things to usurp our place.  Yes, we become slaves of our possessions the moment we cannot let them go; when they exercise control over our happiness.  Take drug addicts for example.  They cannot live without drugs.  Deprived of drugs, they become restless, edgy and even violent.  All of us are addicted to our possessions in some ways.  Some of us cannot be happy without a car; some cannot be happy without wearing jewelry and expensive clothes; some cannot live without smoking or drinking.  So isn’t it true that our possessions are masters of our lives?

Hence, we must ask ourselves seriously this question: is it better to have more possessions and lose our happiness and peace, our family, our health and our life, or is it wiser to have less so that we can have more?  When we learn to let go the non-essentials in life, we will be happier because we come to possess what is really vital for life and happiness.  In giving up our useless and fathomless pursuit of wealth, glory and power, we find ourselves living a more simple life – but a life that is more profound because it is lived intensely and meaningfully.

In the final analysis, happiness is not dependent on how much we have but how we are.  Happiness is not to be measured in material terms but in personal terms.  The determinant of happiness is whether we are personally enriched rather than materially enriched.  A rich life cannot be exchanged for a life of riches.  Many people who live simply, live a rich life – rich in love, peace, joy, health and freedom.  Those who are slaves to wealth and power and glory will find it impossible to be happy in life because they will always live in fear, anxiety, competition, envy, bitterness and restlessness.

Today, Jesus invites us to consider carefully whether we want to live, or simply to exist.  If we really want to live fully, then we must die.  But perhaps, we still have not been able to grasp fully what the gospel is speaking about.  If that is the case, we must take time off for prayer to be more in touch with divine wisdom.  Unless we see life in its deepest depth and reality through the eyes of God and the mind of Jesus, we will always be shortsighted in life.  The outcome of our lack of foresight is that we will eventually destroy ourselves.  Prayer is the key to divine wisdom and divine life.  In coming to know the real meaning and essentials of life, we will experience tremendous joy and freedom, a joy and freedom as Jesus tells us in John’s gospel, the world cannot give.  Let us pray for this grace to be free from our undue possessiveness either of our loved ones, ourselves or of our possessions.  Yes, instead of being a prisoner of all these, let us, like Paul, become a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paradoxically, in being Christ’s prisoner, we attain the ultimate true freedom and joy.  Like him, we transcend the world and ourselves.