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Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me..." (Mt 10:37-42)

Comparison love is dangerous! No one wants to be in a position where they must decide who they love based on their faithfulness or loyalty. Matthew's gospel today, unfortunately, places us in this quandary. The predicament states, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." In Amy-Jill Levine's book, she asks this intimidating question, "How are we to love Jesus--or God if you believe Jesus to be God -- more than our parents, when our parents are the more immediate ones who give us care."

Levine's question is an excellent inquiry to ponder. Honestly, I wrestled even more when seeking illumination for Matthew's perplexing text, remembering what the Catholic Church's catechism teaches. "Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. ... Parents have a grave responsibility to give a good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them..." (CCC 2223).

Here I am. Here we are. We have a gospel text telling us that we must love God more than our parents, who are the ones who taught us to love God in the first place. They physically touched us first outside of the womb. Our parents changed our diapers and provided food when hungry and clothes to wear while teaching us the graciousness of God through their loving acts. And let's not forget the thundering voice of Moses when he spoke the fourth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you" (Ex. 20:12). I was raised on this fourth commandment more than the first commandment, "You shall not have other gods beside me" (Ex. 20:3).

Stationed between these interconnecting poles of love for God and parents, Psalm 127 escorted me out of darkness to God's radiant light. The psalmist said, "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build ... Certainly sons are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them. He will never be shamed for he will destroy his foes at the gate" (Ps. 127:1, 3-5).

My lectio experience on this psalm reminded me that God built our house into a home. If one was to think otherwise, they don't understand the graciousness of God. They are living selfishly in their self-centeredness. The voice of God then spoke to me about how children are like fruits on the vine from our mother's womb. I was a reward to my parents for their fidelity to God. Finally, though, like an arrow in the hands of a warrior, my parents shot me into the world. I became an independent thinker and believer that God was the one who built our house into a home, believing that God's mercy followed them all the days of their lives.

Therefore, the Catechism teaching is correct. Our parents teach us to love and believe in the graciousness that comes with our relationship with God. I have to have a relationship with God because that is where my strength comes from. As the old folks say, you cannot reach heaven because of your parent's relationship with God. Your parents cannot be your mediator in your relationship with God. You got to know God for yourself. Besides, how foolish would this image be to see a parent carrying their cross and their child's cross to the gates of heaven? No wonder Jesus said, "whoever does not take up [his/her] cross and follow after me is not worthy of me" (Mt. 10:38).

Author: Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS,

Facilitator, University of Dayton, VLCFF, The University of Notre Dame, McGrath Institute, STEP Online, and Loyola Marymount University, Lead Faculty, and Course Designer "The Presence of Black Catholics in the Church Today and Tomorrow" Registration is open now for fall courses.

Founder of Eat the Scroll Ministry

Notes: Amy-Jill Levine, The Difficult Words of Jesus - A Beginner's Guide to His Most Perplexing Teachings (Nashville, Tn.: Abingdon Press, 2021), 33.

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