Today’s Gospel ends on something of a strange note. A woman in the crowd says something complimentary about the Blessed Mother of Jesus, and Jesus appears to rebuke her. It seems a “tad” out of character to Catholic ears, for we are of the mindset that there cannot be enough praise for the Virgin Mother of God, and we tend to have a deep appreciation of the importance of family life. But our Lord’s statement was not made in isolation. Earlier, when informed that His Mother and brethren were outside waiting to see Him, He made the similar statement:
and a few chapters later in Saint Luke’s Gospel we read:
Jesus even seems to make this a condition of salvation:
What can our Lord possibly be saying? Everything we know about Jesus Christ tells us that He must have held His Blessed Mother in the greatest of esteem, and likewise that He gave high importance to the integrity of the family. Indeed, it was our Lord who raised marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament, and contravened the laxity of Moses which allowed a Jewish man to divorce his wife if he wasn’t pleased with her.The Venerable Bede, an eighth century English monk, explains today’s Gospel by saying that our Lord both humbly acknowledged the woman in the crowd to be correct, while at the same time indicating how others might share some of the favor of the Blessed Virgin:
Saint John Chrysostom, fourth century Patriarch of Constantinople, suggests that our Lord was issuing a warning. Our Lord’s countrymen, the Jewish people of the Old Testament, put a great deal of stock in the fact that they were the descendants of Abraham; perhaps thinking that this relationship put them in a spiritually privileged position where salvation was more or less assured. But, to the contrary, said Saint John:
Did our Lord intend us to “hate” our parents, our spouses, and our children? Certainly not, not even if they happen to be grievous sinners, for God’s great desire is the repentance of sinners, and not their condemnation. Is there something evil about having a home or a little property to cultivate? Again, the answer is no, for the earth and its produce are God’s creations—intended for human stewardship.
The word “hate” is clearly hyperbole—the use of a extreme word to make a point. Here our Lord is reminding us of two things. Firstly, that God must be the most important thing in our lives. There is a great deal of wisdom in voluntarily giving up the use worldly things, if, by doing so, we can draw closer to God. But, even those worldly things which we retain may be taken away from us, either by the vicissitudes of life or through persecution because of our following of Christ. He is telling us that if we are to remain capable of picking up His cross and following Him, we must be able to relinquish our hold on human relationships and possessions—not that we “hate” them in the literal sense, but that we despise them to the point of being able to let them go if that becomes necessary for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
Secondly, our Lord is reminding us that even if we never have to make the choice to give up an important relationship or to divest ourselves of some piece of property, we must beware of over attachment to the things of the world. It is not at all difficult to become so absorbed in the worldly pursuit of people and things that we find little or no time for God. Even things which are positively good in themselves can become detrimental if they distract us from our relationship with God. As we heard Saint Paul say this morning, “covetousness”—the desire to acquire more and more material things—is a form of idolatry. We must never allow ourselves to get to the point of worshipping our possessions as though they were false gods!
If our Lord’s words seem a bit frightening to us—this idea of “hating” what we naturally love; or the idea of carrying His cross—we ought to reflect, instead, on the great opportunity presented to us. Even though we are not of the tribe of Abraham, nor of the kingly house of David, we are still capable of being mother, or brother, or sister to Jesus Christ. What we lack in heredity can be made up in faith and perseverance. Our Lord’s natural relatives gained nothing at all by being related to Him—it was the Apostles and those who followed after them who gained everything—the “true friendship and companionship” of almighty God—by virtue of their obedience. In us as in Mary herself, the word of God is conceived in faith, born through good works, and nourished in our hearts.
“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
 Gospel: Luke xi: 14-28.
 Luke viii: 21
 Luke xiv: 26-27
 Matthew xix: 29.
 Bede, Homily Book 4, ch 49 on ch 11 of Luke. Third nocturn, common of feasts of the BVM.
 John Chrysostom, Homily 20 on John ch2, near the end. Nocturn, Vigil of the Assumption of the BVM.
 Epistle: Ephesians v: 1-9.