Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. I is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day, Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you — and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.
When large crowds were traveling with Jesus, he turned and said to them "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Today's gospel is rather grim, if it were read in isolation; but it is nicely balanced by St Paul's optimistic message to the Philippians. He points out how a local parish community can function in a loving way, if there's a widespread spirit of service and goodwill. He advises them (and us) to act without grumbling or arguing; in an innocent and straightforward way, as genuine children of God. He then refers to time of his death, which he thinks is near, and feels sure that he will not have run the race in vain or worked to no purpose. And so, quite serenely, he invites them to "be glad too, and rejoice with me."
Jesus' words about turning one's back on father and mother and family must be seen in light of his broad insistence on the two commandments of love, for God and for neighbour. Who is closer than our family? If there are times, hopefully rare, when we act in such a way that causes grief to others – such as when parents discipline their children, or a friend corrects another – even this must be done in love. Like Jesus, we too must regret any involuntarily suffering we may cause to another. For love is the ultimate fulfillment of God's will.
Our Lord's words today sound harsh and strange to our ears. But he is using a Semitic idiom that expresses preference of one thing over another. If you prefer one thing, or even one person, over another, you are said to love the one and hate the other. Jesus is not calling on his disciples to hate their families, but to love him more than they love even their families. He is to be the primary love or the primary loyalty in our lives. Elsewhere in the gospel Jesus quotes what he terms the first commandment to love God with all one's soul, strength and mind. However, because Jesus is God-with-us, to love God in this total way is to love Jesus in this total way. As followers of Jesus we are called to give him our primary allegiance; our relationship with him is to influence all our other relationships. Jesus calls for great loyalty and devotion. That is why he calls on potential disciples to think it through, just as a builder has to think through whether he will be able to finish building the tower if he starts on it. We ask the Lord today to keep us whole-hearted rather than half-hearted in our following of him.