23rd Sunday in Ordinary time

The gospel we’ve just listened to seems to be a perfect recipe for a suicide bomber or a sectarian (or both in the same person). Such a radical appeal automatically lights a warning light in every head. Or it should do. But many examples of the killing innocent people by terrorists provides sufficient evidence that’s not always obvious. I really hope that nobody here is going to take this gospel seriously in its literal meaning.

Sadly some fervent Christians read the Bible overshadowing the ancient Semitic way of thinking with the current Western mentality and philosophy. This results in a dangerous mixture, which must be rejected by many on the grounds of common sense, but accepted by others making them fanatical and “argument-proof” sectarians.

The Bible, as any book, has to be interpreted in the context of the times, places and environment in which the Bible was written. It’s obvious and easy with modern books, but far more difficult with ancient literature, especially from a different culture. I’ve been reading a book about Japan’s history and culture and I’m astonished how different they are to ours.

Another important factor in interpreting the Bible is correct understanding of the author’s intentions. Many speeches of Jesus contain very strong, even exaggerated  phrases or comparisons. They were used just for one reason: to emphasize the message, to force the audience to think.

Today’s passage is one such example. In the Bible a person was defined by the relationships with other members of the family – or widely – the local community.  Exile was one of the worst punishments in ancient times. For the people of Israel Babylonian exile became a symbol of the worst humiliation. So when Jesus spoke about his followers hating their closest relatives, it must have woken up his audience.

Jesus explains and develops his teaching in the parables about a man planning to build a tower and a king preparing for a battle. Readiness to be rejected and deprived of influence is an important part of following Jesus. It doesn’t mean any kind of active or passive hatred towards the family or any other person. Some of you may have experienced contempt, mocking, impatience and other reactions from your relatives, friends or neighbours more often than we would like to expect.

Today’s gospel is not an appeal to build up hatred in our hearts; it’s not a call to fight against anyone. The gospel is an appeal to consider, if I am ready to follow Christ, even if the price is to be very high. The message is simple and directed inwards: “anyone who doesn’t carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”.