What on earth is Jesus getting at in today’s Gospel when he tells us to “hate” our family? (Luke 14:25-33) Strange words because we know that he taught us that we must not hate anyone, that we must even love our enemies, so why does he appear to say the opposite here? I think the answer lies in the words that come before it. “Great crowds accompanied Jesus on the way.” The point is that Jesus was quite rightly suspicious of crowds. He knew how easily people will follow the crowd, and think that where a crowd is there must be something important happening. And most of us are more than a bit like this. If there are lots of people in church, we tend to think that means success. If most people go shopping or stay in bed sleeping on Sunday, we find it difficult to be different.
Jesus says instead that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20) – not two or three hundred, but “two or three”! On another occasion, when he’d begun teaching them about his presence in the bread and wine, the crowds were shocked and turned away from him; and instead of pleading with his few disciples to stay, he challenged them with the words, “Do you want to leave too?” (John 6:67) The final instance of a crowd being wrong was at his trial wasn’t it? One day, as he enters Jerusalem, they’re all cheering, and the next day they are all shouting “Crucify him!” (eg Matt 27) And if you want a more modern example of the way crowds can turn to evil, look at the way Hitler and the Nazi Party manipulated the crowds in 1930’s Germany.
We may think we are not like this but beware, for it’s a very natural human tendency to want to be like the people around us, and to behave like them, and Jesus knows this. Try this experiment, sit talking to someone, and put one hand in a different position and watch the way the person will very often mirror your movement. So, when Jesus is faced with the crowds who are all wanting to see him because everyone else seems to want to see him, he has to really challenge them to think and act for themselves, rather than to just go along with the crowd. So he uses brutal language, even that word “hate” to make them really think hard about what they are doing, just as in another place he shocks people by telling them to cut off their hand, if it does wrong!
In today’s Gospel, he explains what he is saying with two stories, one about building a tower and the other about going to war. In both cases, he reminds us, it is like everything important that we do in our lives, it requires real commitment, not just going along with the crowd. If we really want to following Jesus – to be a Christian – then we have to realise the challenge this is, and not give up halfway because we hadn’t realised how difficult it would be!
People here in England, especially young people at school, have a big problem here. Most want to be and to think like their friends, and not to stand out from the crowd, and being a real practising Christian – even more a Catholic Christian – is not what most of their friends see as trendy. Much of the scorn poured on the Church is, of course, nonsense, but if the crowd believes it, then it’s difficult not to believe it too. The crowd, for example, in their ignorance, say that since the Universe was created by the Big Bang, there cannot be a God. This is nonsense, of course, because the Big Bang theory is a Christian idea not an atheist one, and was first put forward by a Physicist called George LeMaitre who was also a Catholic priest. But try telling the crowd that. As this example shows, the crowd has their own kind of wisdom which is often just nonsense. Listen to what St Paul says on this subject:- “If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Cor 3:18-19)
So when in our 1st Reading (Wisdom 9:13-18) we are told that we need “wisdom”, we need to remind ourselves this is not the kind of wisdom comes from the crowd, from what people around us are saying or thinking, but the wisdom that comes from God. Being a Christian and following Jesus is not easy. It’s much easier to believe vaguely in God as a quiet force that makes few demands on us, or not to believe at all. than to believe in the challenging loving God that Jesus brings to us. Crowds will come and go in their support for this or that, and are not to be trusted. We are called to follow Jesus, and that can often be a hard path of service and sacrifice, and not an easy road.