Do I love Jesus more than I love my parents, wife, children, grandchildren or my own brothers and sisters? Why would Jesus tell me that I must love him more than any of these in order to be worthy of him and just what does it mean to be worthy of Christ?
The passages we heard today from Matthew’s gospel are part of a series of instructions Jesus gave to the disciples as he was sending them out to preach the good news (you really should take out your bibles and read the 10th chapter of Matthew’s gospel to help you understand those conditions for being an effective disciple). This “commissioning”- sending the disciples out two by two – occurred early in Jesus’ ministry on earth. He has healed the sick, cast out demons and was proclaiming the kingdom of God has now established on earth. He now sends the disciples out to do the proclaim the same message and gave them power to heal the sick, cast out demons as they proclaimed the kingdom of God is at hand.
Keep in mind this was before Pentecost and long before they had a full understanding of who he was or how he would free people and restore them to righteousness by removing the barrier of sin between us and God.
In one way, at that moment of their relationship with Jesus, they were like us with the exception we have had thousands of years of developed theology to assist us to understand who he was and what his life, death and resurrection did for us. So when we hear Jesus tell us we must love him more than anything or anyone else is it possible for us to love him more than others with us having just a basic understanding of who Jesus was?
Is it possible for us to minister or serve others with power and still not love Jesus more than anything else? I believe the answer to that question is yes because that is exactly what the disciples did when they were sent out two by two. They did go out and heal the sick, cast out demons and proclaim the good news as he instructed them to do. We know their love for him was not as he was telling them it should be because the scriptures show us their lack of understanding up to the time of Pentecost.
Imagine what they were thinking when they heard him tell them they must love him more than mother, father, brother, sister or spouse. They had already abandoned family, jobs and their life as they knew it. They did all of that to follow Jesus because they believed he would free them and they believed the message he preached was from God. His words to them were spoken to all who would come to believe in him. Jesus is telling us that even if we minister with power that is not enough. He is challenging us to consider how we are called to be sons and daughters not just servants of the kingdom.
We are being asked to examine not only what we are doing to spread the kingdom but to examine our hearts. It is not enough to go out and do something that may be eye opening if our hearts are not centered on God. We may serve in shelters, or food banks, hospice, teaching, lecturing, singing, ushering, child care, counting money or helping maintain the buildings or grounds but if we do not love God with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul then we are not the kind of disciples Jesus tells us we must become.
We must examine how we love, who we love and what we love. We know there are different kinds of love. The love I have for my brothers and sisters is very different from the love I have for my wife or the kind of love I know I should have for my wife. The very foundation of “marital love” and “parental love” is a self-sacrificing love. Loving in a way which translates into everything I do every minute of every day is to be for the good of my spouse and children not for self.
If we are honest with ourselves we will have to admit we constantly fail to love in this way. Yet it is not our failure to love in this manner as it is more important to know we should love in this way and are aware of each time we fail. This is the key – knowing we fall short in loving as we should love. After all, we are human and inherent in our humanity is the self serving desire to please self.
I believe we daily have an opportunity to show our love of God. Those times are given to us every day outside our choices to serve others. On the way to the food bank where we have volunteered and we see someone broken down on the side of the road that is an opportunity to serve and love in a self sacrificing way. This spontaneous serving means we are more motivated to serve someone in need than serve as we choose to serve.
Each time we are at a stop light waiting for the light to change and there is someone on the side of the road begging for money is an opportunity to serve and love in a self sacrificing way. This means we suspend judgment and seize the opportunity to serve someone in need no matter the cause of that need.
Each time that person who gets on your nerves at work is causing anger to arise in you is an opportunity for you to serve in a self sacrificing way. This means we stop and begin praying for ourselves to find a way to love them instead of avoiding them or wishing they would change.
To love Jesus more than any other means we also must learn to love all others. This is the lessons of Jesus in the scriptures. This is true discipleship. We will never fulfill the demands of this command of Jesus to love until we learn the lessons he taught us during his life on earth. He forgave those who were crucifying him. He touched the untouchable lepers who no one would go near. He dined with sinners and was criticized because he dared to do so. He broke the laws by healing on the Sabbath and was deemed a blasphemer.
We on the other hand will generally do anything to get along and be in the good graces of the Pharisees of our day. This is the first place for you and I to examine ourselves to see if we love Jesus more than any other. The road to the kingdom is filled with wonder and awe and it is also one that challenges us to love God more than anything or anyone else.