One of the harshest words delivered by our Lord to his apostles is the following: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…” (Mt 10,34ff)
Down the line, we can hear him say: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
These words remind us, first of all, that we really have to handle the word of God properly. Otherwise we would be crippled in contradiction and even in scandal. We have to be wary of relying simply on our common and current understanding of things. The word of God requires much wider and deeper efforts for it to be understood properly.
We need to consider the overall sense or intent of faith (sensus fidei) of the Bible, giving due attention to the human elements that go into its inspired writing, like the cultural and historical context, linguistic style of the people then, etc. Through them, we can get an idea of what the sacred writers had in mind when they put divine inspiration into words.
We just cannot automatically apply our current mindset on something written centuries ago. That approach would miss a lot of things and would distort the meaning of the inspired word even drastically.
In this particular passage, we simply cannot conclude that our Lord does not want us to have peace, since he is referred to as the Prince of Peace. Even on his birth, angels in heaven sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.” (Lk 2,14) How can we ever think he is does not want peace for us?
Much less can we think that he is asking us to hate our father and mother, since the 4th commandment precisely requires us to honor our parents, and he himself told us to love one another as he has loved us. Nor that we lose our life.
The “harsh” tone of our Lord's words is meant only to highlight one thing—that our detachment from persons and things in this world should be total to give way to our full commitment to God.
It's a total self-giving that involves a self-emptying, so we can be filled with nothing less than God himself, and with him, we would have everything else. As St. Teresa of Avila once said: “Solo Dios basta.” (Only God suffices)
And our Lord himself said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt 6,33) This should be the trajectory of our attitude towards life, our work and the use of material things. Any other direction would be fatal to our spiritual and moral life.
So the detachment our Lord is asking of us actually does not mean that we hate our life, our parents and others, and the things of this world. Rather it is a detachment that asks of us to have rectitude of intention, that everything that we do be for the glory of God.
St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians said as much: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10,31)
We should not be afraid to go through the required sacrifices and self-denial, since these can only lead us to the joy and peace meant for us. We need to do better than have a shallow and narrow view of our earthly life, a knee-jerk reaction to things.
We need to give due attention to this duty of rectifying and purifying our intention, filling it with love, and expressing it with generosity and heroism even. Our problem is precisely our tendency to take this duty for granted, and so we open ourselves to the subtle forces of pride, greed, lust, envy, anger, gluttony, sloth, etc.
Detachment does not remove our involvement and engagement in our earthly and temporal affairs. It simply puts them in the right context and the right direction. It frees us from unnecessary baggage.
It improves our vision and understanding of things, and predisposes our heart to the real love which can only a sharing in God's love.
Let's live detachment everyday to be properly involved in the world!*
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