Sunday, September 05, 2004

Luke 14: 26—Put The Rock In The Jar First!

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on September 5, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Luke 14: 25-33.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2004]

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Dear Jesus, what are you talking about? I thought you told us to love one another as you have loved us?

Perhaps the story of the rock, the pebbles, and the sand will help us to understand what the Lord is actually saying to us in this difficult verse from Luke 14. Some of you may have heard this before. . . .

One day a theology professor at a Catholic university brought several special items into his classroom: a large, clear glass jar, a rock, a box of pebbles, and a box of sand.

He stood before his students, and, without saying a word, he put the rock inside the jar. Then he added the pebbles—as many as he could fit into the remaining space. Finally he poured in the sand, which filled in all the small areas between the rock and the pebbles.

Then he said to the students, “I’ve just given you a visual example of how God wants you to live on this earth. This jar represents your life; the rock represents Jesus Christ and your Catholic faith. These must always be your first priorities! You were made to know God, to love God and to serve God during the years the Lord gives you on this planet. Your Catholic faith teaches you how to do this; it teaches you how to know and follow God’s will.

“The pebbles represent the other important dimensions of your life: your marriage (if you’re married), your children, your family, your other interpersonal relationships, your daily responsibilities, your job, your works of charity, your physical health, etc.

“Finally, the sand represents all the ‘small stuff’—the trivialities that most of us, quite frankly, are much too concerned with: the clothes we wear, our social status, the car we drive, the number of ‘toys’ we have, whether people like us or not, etc.

“Notice I put the rock in the jar first. If I hadn’t done that—if I had started off by filling the jar with pebbles or sand or some combination of the two—there would not have been room for the rock. And that’s the way life is: If we fill it with sand and pebbles (as important as some of those pebbles might be!) we won’t have enough room for Christ. He must be first—our faith in him and in his truth must be primary. Then we can add the pebbles and the sand—in that order, of course! The pebbles must be put in before the sand!”

Listen again now to what Jesus said: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

To hate in this context means “to put into a subordinate place”; it doesn’t mean “to detest.” It couldn’t possibly mean that, because in other passages of Scripture Jesus forbids hatred—even of our enemies!

The message of our Lord in this verse could be paraphrased in this way: “If anyone comes to me without putting me first in his life and placing all his other human relationships in a secondary position, he cannot be my disciple.”

The Rock in other words, must be placed in our jar first! (Rock here has a capital “R.” The “Rock” is Christ!) He must occupy the central and primary position—regardless of who we are and what our state of life happens to be.

This involves more than just saying, “Jesus, I love you; you’re my Savior; you’re number 1!” Putting the Rock in the jar first also means making every effort to obey Jesus perfectly—the Jesus who speaks to us through his word, as taught authoritatively by his Church!

Is this easy? No, it is not! Consider, for example, the Catholic political figures in our nation right now who happily profess their love for Jesus, and then openly oppose our Lord’s Gospel through their public support of abortion, the gay lifestyle, embryonic stem cell research, and a host of other moral evils!

Most of them do this because they think it will get them votes from the members of NARAL and the National Organization for Women and every other radical, leftist group out there. But in compromising their faith in this way, these political figures are actually putting their human relationships with the members of these organizations above their relationship with Jesus Christ!

Do some of these same Catholic politicians support other causes which are noble and just? In many cases, the answer is yes! But that’s like putting pebbles in the jar and leaving out the Rock! Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me without putting me first in his life and placing all his other human relationships—and we might add all his ‘issues’—in a secondary position, he cannot be my disciple.”

And here’s the interesting irony for you to ponder during this election year: If a Catholic politician puts the Lord first in his life, and “hates” his constituents in the sense that Jesus uses the term here, he will end up becoming a better, stronger, more compassionate leader!

I don’t know about you, but I tend to trust a politician much more if he has respect for the commandments of God, and respect for the most innocent and vulnerable among us: the unborn, the elderly, the terminally ill, etc.

If a government official spurns God’s law and demonstrates a lack of respect for most innocent and vulnerable in our society, then I certainly don’t think he’ll respect me and my rights—because I’m not so “innocent and vulnerable”! And neither are most of you!

But let’s be clear about it, this truth applies to everyone, not just politicians! In her incredible life, for example, Blessed Mother Teresa clearly put Jesus Christ first; there’s little or no doubt about that. At the same time she “hated” the sick and dying souls of Calcutta—in the sense that they took second place in her heart. But because of that she loved them more! By making the daily decision to put Jesus first, she allowed her heart to be filled with his love continually—and it was that love which inspired her great acts of charity and mercy.

My mother, God rest her soul, always told my father, my sister and me that Jesus Christ was her first love. And she meant it! In that sense she “hated” us. But because she hated us in this way she loved us much more than she would have if her commitment to Jesus had been mediocre or non-existent.

My mother, like Blessed Mother Teresa, put the Rock in the jar first—and kept it there.

May the Lord help each of us—and every Catholic—to do the same.