I cannot count the projects that I have begun and never finished. What started out as a great idea and began in earnest, too often has been laid aside and forgotten. The books I started to write are still waiting to be finished. The objects I started to build are collecting dust in the basement. The dreams of youth are covered in the cobwebs of my mind.
Why have I not finished those projects or pursued those dreams? The simple answer would be that I lacked preparation and focus. I did not take into account that which would be needed to complete the task. I did not stay on the task but let the cares of the world distract me and lead me away to other things.
This lack of preparation and focus is what Jesus is speaking of in today's Gospel. In order to be His disciple I must prepare myself and stay focused. He pulls no punches when speaking of the preparations that must be made. He tells me straight up, "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Even a talented politician would have difficulty twisting this message. If I refuse to carry the cross given to me, if I refuse to follow in the bloody steps of suffering mapped out by Our Lord, I cannot be His disciple. This is a tough message for those accustomed to hearing that Jesus just wants to give everyone a great big hug - cannot be my disciple. This is the preparation that must be made. I must look to His life, expect the same treatment, and go forward or back out. There is no mid-way in the Christian life.
To stay focused on Christ while carrying this cross is another challenge. I am easily distracted by the the cares of the world, emotions, circumstances, and setbacks. I am distracted even by my family and friends at times. This lack of focus too can spell out failure for me in the Christian life. Jesus tells me that I must "hate" even those who are closest to me if I am to complete this journey. This of course doesn't mean that I should abandon everyone. Rather, I should put no one above Christ on this journey. I am walking, with my cross, behind Jesus. These other folks are welcome to walk behind us (following our good example) or beside us (assisting us on the way like Simon of Cyrene)but never between us.
Even though "hate" is a strong word, the message is consistent throughout Scripture. Love of God comes first and then love of neighbor, in that order. Another way to visualize it is by using a triangle. God is at the peak of this triangle and you and I are at the other two points. The closer we get to God, the closer we get to each other. However, if we merely try to get closer to each other, we move not one little bit toward God, Whom we should love above all things, even each other.
Preparation, taking into account all that is required of us to walk with Christ, and focus, letting not even those closest to us distract us from God, is the message of today's Gospel. I pray for the strength to do both and for a little extra to finish some of those earthly projects as well.