Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
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 me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Commenting on the first line of today’s Gospel reading, St John Chrysostom (c. 349-407 AD) wrote, “It is holy to render one’s parents every honour, but when they demand more than is due, we ought not to yield.” But then, to save the parents’ feelings, Chrysostom adds that they are not being put in the second place to their son or daughter but to Jesus. To follow Jesus, he explained, we have to be prepared to give up everything – even our own life. The parents are not being put in the second place to oneself, but to the Lord; that should ease their feelings.
What is being expressed here is the absolute character of the following of Christ. Faith is not a separate compartment in one’s life, a special interest or hobby to be taken up when we put down our serious work. “Do you not know,” wrote St Paul, “that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). The word ‘baptised’ means ‘plunged’. We have been plunged into death with Christ – plunged into his death – and so we hope that we will also be raised with him. It is not an ‘interest’, then; it is a matter of life and death.
“What a morbid religion you have!” a Muslim said to me once in Pakistan. “All that emphasis on suffering and death can’t be good.”
But suffering and death do not stand by themselves, for a Christian. We are never to think of them as if they were the whole story. We never think of Christ’s suffering and death without thinking of his resurrection; and likewise our own suffering and death are openings to resurrection. The last word is not suffering and death, but “that we might walk in newness of life.”
This pattern (death-resurrection) is stamped on our whole life: it is not only the pattern of the whole, it is stamped on every cell of the body, so to speak. There is no deep life without a lot of dying to oneself. The way to deeper life is not through exaltation of the ego, but through its death. The false self, the self-made self, the ego and its false pride: this has to die – or rather burst, because it is nothing real but only a bubble. “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”