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Joe Hoover, S.J.November 08, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Find today’s readings here.

Does it spark joy? If not, let it go. Let it go and thank (literally thank) the bent tablespoon or old KISS t-shirt or tattered copy of Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man for its years of service—and then throw it out, give it away.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, people all over the world were doing precisely this. And undoubtedly still are. It stemmed from the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up byMarie Kondo, and her Netflix series, in which she teaches the practice of decluttering our homes; and doing so not just as a home improvement project, but as a way to change our very selves. You can transform your life by transforming your physical environment. Reconsidering our material objects can serve as a warmup to reconsidering our careers, our relationships, the old attitudes and opinions that have dogged us for years.

(A thousand departed America editors in Jesuit graveyards everywhere are trembling with rage as I am about to compare the words of Jesus Christ with the decluttering philosophy of Marie Kondo.)

Through the modern practice of personal organizing, Marie Kondo struck into the same deposit of truth that is the heart of all Christian spirituality. Where she encourages us to discard anything that gets in the way of joy, Christians are called to get rid of everything that stands between us and God.

(A thousand departed America editors in Jesuit graveyards everywhere are trembling with rage as I am about to compare the words of Jesus Christ with the decluttering philosophy of Marie Kondo.)

In today’s reading, Jesus states it far more harshly than Marie, so gentle and patient that one, ever would. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Hate what gets in the way of God. Despise what gets in the way of following Christ.

There is debate among scholars about how exactly to interpret Jesus’ use of the word “hate.” What is certain is that the teachers and prophets of Israel often used “rabbinic hyperbole” to make a point. Meaning that, here, “hate your mother” does not necessarily mean to “despise the woman who birthed you.” Hate, in this passage, can simply mean to “love less than.”

(Yet there is danger in trying to defang difficult passages like this one by interpreting them in ways that make them easier to swallow. Because if Jesus is using “hyperbole” he is talking about something that itself is beyond hyperbole: how to attain union with the God of the universe.)

For God is the only thing that matters. Whatever comes in the way of God, we are called to let it go. Let go of sarcastic old friends and gloomy acquaintances whose sheer presence invites nothing but sadness. Leave the job that is nothing but heartache and pain. (And changing jobs, by the way, is not a luxury merely for the privileged—personal misery is so often a choice!) Fire the old nagging thoughts, the self-pity; end the revisiting over and over memories of a dysfunctional childhood, the “ways we were wronged” that we can treasure and nurture, that provide energy to our excuses for our unhappy lives.

No, let these things go, Jesus is saying, and treasure me alone. This is serious business. There is a decision to be made, to be on my side or not, so make it.

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