By Karen Muensterman
Last weekend’s Gospel was extremely challenging. Jesus tells us that we cannot become His disciples without “hating” our mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters. In our culture, where family values are often understood to be synonymous with Christian values, Jesus’ call to renounce our families is very definitely counter-cultural.
This particular Gospel passage is not the first time that Jesus challenges our normal understanding of human relationships. In Matthew 12:48, Jesus asks, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” as if He does not acknowledge the concept of blood relatives. In Luke 10:25, when a lawyer asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan wherein a man from a disdained culture rescues his injured enemy.
Early this summer, I had my own experience of being injured and rescued. While on a weekend trip to Lake Barkley, I fell down some concrete steps and suffered fractures of my left ankle, tibia and fibula. My right ankle was badly sprained. As I lay on the sidewalk in excruciating pain, my only thought was how long I would have to suffer before help arrived.
Luckily, an ambulance was there in 10 minutes. Within hours, I was in surgery, and a little over 24 hours after the accident, I was home. I was confined to a wheelchair for six weeks, during which time I was showered with loving attention by family and friends.
Although my accident may be seen as a misfortune by many, in reality, it reinforced how very fortunate I am compared to most of the world’s people. Thank God I was born in a country where ambulances arrive in minutes. Many victims of accidents, natural disasters and violence lay in excruciating pain for hours or days – or die while waiting for help – not because they are undeserving, but simply because they were born into unfortunate circumstances.
Thank God for my husband’s insurance (which I neither worked for nor paid for), which covered my high-quality medical care. Many people are denied decent medical care or accumulate crippling debt because they don’t have insurance. And most of all, thank God that I have a family who stopped their normal summer routines to care for me.
My suffering was greatly mitigated by the fact that I am surrounded by people who are emotionally attached to me and have the means to care for me. Many people in the world are suffering and helpless, and no one sees, no one stops, and no one cares.
The fact that every human being is a beloved child of God should be a triumphant truth, but sometimes it is a tragic one because many of the world’s people never feel God’s love.
In this Gospel, perhaps Jesus does not want us to abandon our families so much as He wants us to abandon our definition of family. Maybe Jesus wants us to abandon the idea that our parents, our siblings and our children are more important, more valuable and more deserving than theirs – even if they are from a different country or culture, or even if they are addicted to drugs or don’t work hard enough or make bad choices. Perhaps Jesus is calling us to let go of our notion of family as a small, neatly defined group of people we know, understand and approve of so that we can open our hearts and minds to the human family to which we all belong.
Jesus’ love is ever expansive. It reaches past the borders of bloodlines, races and nations, and way beyond the boundaries of personal relationships. It is this boundless love that Jesus calls us to as His disciples. He calls us to care not just for our own, but for those who belong to other people or to no one at all.
We are true disciples when we can look into the face of a crying refugee child on the border, or a homeless man on the corner of the expressway, or an uninsured woman in the emergency room, and see family.