Commentary on the Gospel of
The passage from Isaiah is a condemnation of hypocrisy combined with a call to justice. The Gospel outlines certain conditions of discipleship. The shared themes that I find in today’s readings are the dangers of disordered attachments and the call to act as a “sword” and a shield responding with the Lord in my heart.
I experience the first reading as a reminder that my outward expressions of religious ritual mean little unless my heart is open to the Lord. I find in the passage a call to be an advocate and a shield for those who are oppressed and in need. I realize that I find it easier to do this structurally through service institutions. My weakness is that it is much harder for me to connect on a person-to-person basis.
I admit that I have always been bothered by today’s Gospel. It is the extended version of the one from two Sundays ago. I found myself led to reflect in a very different direction from that of the sermon which I heard at that time. I have a deep sense of attachment to my family. If taken literally I find this reading could be presenting an uneasy black and white choice between faith and family.
When I try to imagine myself in the crowd of Jesus’ disciples, I try to put His words in context, and I notice that the previous passage in Matthew’s Gospel deals with courage under persecution. I comfortably see how the second half of today’s Gospel builds on that theme. Still, the first half leaves me challenged and disturbed by the words attributed to Jesus. They do not fit my picture of the loving and forgiving Jesus. It is interesting that I find myself more willing to give up my life than to give up my family.
One of my grandnephews is a Dominican brother in formation. When he joined, they gave him a new name. My first impression was that they were trying to separate him from his family. On further reflection, I realized that my wife got a new name when we married. I was not taking my wife from her family, instead it was a sign that we were starting something new. (In fact, as we were living in Europe at the time, we both used our last names joined with a hyphen. This eventually ended when we moved to the United States and all of our legal documents used only my last name.)
I was also reminded that there are differences within families. As we mature, we start to establish our own identities. We start to have different thoughts and feelings from some family members. We have distinctive experiences and might not possess similar values. In short, my biological family may not be as homogeneous as I had imagined. This is perhaps clearest when politics or religion come up as topics at the Thanksgiving dinner table. We have our beliefs and they are not uniformly shared among those with whom we share DNA. I find consideration of my attachments to my family, my home, and the various “tribes” to which I give my assent was part of today’s Gospel challenge.
These readings leave me ready to pray about attachments and an open heart to the Lord. I will close with how St. Ignatius expressed this in prayer.
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me.
To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will.
Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.