13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 2, 2017 [Matthew 10:37-42]
“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 (Mat 10:37).”
When God calls us, God does not only call us privately and individually. In the Bible, God also calls us with our family, our community. God created the first man and woman not only to complete each other, but also to “multiply” or to build a human family. Noah entered the ark together with his wife and children. They were saved as a family from the flood. Abraham and Sarah were called from the land of Ur, and establish their own family and clan in the land of Canaan. When God called Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery, God also called Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ brother and sister, to assist him in his mission. Finally, the life of Jesus of Nazareth would not be complete without the family of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth.
Surely, it is a good news for family-oriented persons. For many cultures, like Filipino and Indonesian, family is at the center of our value system. When I ask some of my Filipino friends, “If your house is burning, what are the first things you will rescue?” Their answer is not money, important documents or jewelries, but family pictures! In 1977, the Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, one of the most prominent African figures during that time, visited US and talked before the African students who studied there. Before them, he criticized those Africans who received much support from their families and clan, yet refused to go back after their studies. It was an act of cowardice and betrayal to Africa.
However, if we read today’s Gospel, Jesus made a tough demand for His disciples. In preaching the Kingdom, they had to love Jesus more than they love their family. In ancient Israel, like many Mediterranean societies, respect and honor of the parents was a sacred duty of every child. It was in fact enshrined in the Decalogue as the fourth commandment. To the point that if a child failed to honor their parents and brought nothing but headache, he would be punished severely by the community (see Dt 21:20-21). As a Jew, He knew this too well, yet He insisted that His disciples had to be committed first to Him and His Gospel before their families. Does Jesus want to cut us from our families? Is Christ-centeredness opposed to family centeredness? Does following Jesus mean leaving our family behind?
God indeed calls us with our family and as a family, but He does not call us only for our family. As old proverb goes, “Charity begins at home, but it does not end there.” We surely love our families, but as Christians we are called to serve a bigger family of humanity and even our mother Earth. It is impossible to serve others, if our allegiance is for ourselves and a small family. Many corruptions take place because we want to enrich our families and clans at the expense of other people. To serve the bigger family of humanity, we are called to first love God who is the merciful and just Father to all, who pour rains and gives sunshine both to the good and not so good. Jesus does not want to destroy families because surely He loves Mary and Joseph, yet He loves His Father most, and this love empowers Him to give His life for all whom His Father loves.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP