The Gospel selection for today can be very unsettling. It seems as if Jesus is predicting that people of faith will inevitably run into opposition from the members of their families. Rather than looking at it as a prediction of things to come, it is far more profitable to remember that the Gospels were written long after Jesus’ return to heaven. Much of what the Gospel seem to predict, such as the destruction of the Temple and the bitter fighting in family groups, had already happened to the Christian community. The Gospels are simply reporting the reality. By putting the words into the mouth of Jesus, the evangelists are actually comforting the Christian community.
Family structures in the Middle East were and are much more complex than they are in the Western World. Our culture tends to champion the rights of the individual. Our language is filled with all sorts of way to let people know that they should not be interfering in our lives. The Middle Eastern culture, however, does not champion the rights of the individual. It is the group that gets priority. Everyone is expected to subjugate their needs to the needs of the group. Family life was structured in such a way that the patriarch of the group held sway and governed the lives of each member of the family.
Becoming a Christian was, therefore, a difficult choice to make simply because it automatically set one at odds with the rest of the household. If you read the conversion stories that populate the Acts of the Apostles, you may notice that when Cornelius converts to Christianity, his entire household also converts. It was a group decision made by the patriarch. Consequently, if a member other than the patriarch became Christian, he was usually ostracized from the group. While this would be troubling in our society, it would be catastrophic in Middle Eastern Society. When someone was ostracized from his family, he lost his history, his present reality as well as his future.
For us, the message is clear. A decision to follow Jesus comes with a cost - the cost of discipleship. While the costs for people of the twenty-first century may be different than for the disciples of the first century, there is a cost. We will always find ourselves at odds with much of our society’s customs and values. The decision to follow Jesus takes courage and strength, two gifts that are ours through the Holy Spirit.
Coincidentally, today's memorial fits in with this Gospel reading very well. Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, who was ostracized by her tribe for her Christian beliefs. Disfigured in childhood by small pox, she spent the rest of her life alone with little or no support from her Indian tribe.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator