Sometime ago I came across an advertisement about a holiday camp for teenagers called ‘Back to Basics’. What was different about this camp was that there would be no mobile phones/devices, no wi-fi, no TV, no PS4 or Xbox, no reading materials, no piped in hot water, no chips or cola, and the participants of this camp would be provided with raw materials to cook their meals. I asked some young people if they would like to go and many said yes. When I mentioned the conditions, all of them backed out. They said that they were not ready to give up the comforts that they were accustomed to. Not just young people, but many of us have been accustomed to a certain way of life that we cannot see our lives without these “luxuries”. Most of us build our lives within a certain comfort zone that we consider as giving us security and peace of mind.
There are two parts to today’s gospel. The first part is quite challenging: “Anyone who prefers (loves) father or mother… son or daughter to me is not worthy of me.” One could easily be led to think that Jesus is telling us that familial love has no value in the journey of discipleship. I would certainly say that it would be incorrect to think so because Jesus was very aware of the Fourth Commandment: ‘Thou shall honour your father and mother’. In the context of this gospel passage, the word ‘prefers’ or ‘loves’ indicates some kind of attachment to one’s family or some kind of social circle. It was a challenge to the disciples to get out of their comfort zone which was very much found within the family. Therefore, if we are to put the words of the gospel within its proper context, the underlying message for a disciple is that if we want to follow Jesus, the way of detachment is what brings us closer to God.
On various occasions, when teaching His disciples, Jesus takes up the theme of detachment for He knew that if a disciple is attached to a person, social group and even a material thing, then the path of discipleship becomes more difficult. In the gospel of Matthew, we hear about the encounter between Jesus and a young man. He came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus then tells him, “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth (cf. Mt 19:16-22) Jesus calls for a life of detachment.
Can we imagine a world without cars, mobile phones, tablets, computers, video games, and even internet? It would be hard even for a week and for some even one day without these is unthinkable. We live in a world where there is this “obsession” to be connected with one another but the question that we need to ask, has this obsession to be connected, led us to be disconnected with God?
An example: the spiritual exercises of many great saints like Sts. Benedict, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis de Sales, and Teresa of Avila, call us to begin the day and end the night with thoughts of God. However, the reality of today’s world is that the very first thing and the last thing that most people look at is their phone and even immediately after Mass, most of us can’t wait to look at our phones.
The second part of the gospel speaks of the fruits of detachment: anyone who is detached from worldly possessions now has the time to engage with people through hospitality and generosity. The welcome that Jesus talks comes from the freedom of detachment that now frees us to be focussed on relationships, with God and one another. When we sit in Church and are less preoccupied about who may have called us or updated their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram status, we can be more focussed on God. When we can sit at a table for a drink or meal with family and friends and not having to multitask and reply messages, we make time for each other and thus improve relationships.
Perhaps we can read the gospel today as a timely reminder for all of us… we need technology and success but let us not be attached to them. It is a reminder that we need to make time to reconnect with God. Let us not lose our direction towards God in this rapidly changing and fast paced world. In the words of Jesus, what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Mark 8:36) or to paraphrase, what do you benefit to be connected with the world if you are disconnected with God? For it is in Christ alone that we can find the fullness of life and love.
– 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)