God wants your heart, because he wants your whole person.
Today's first reading from Philemon speaks to us about a slave, Onesimus, who is returning to his Christian master (Slavery in the ancient world was quite different from our country's past; in most cases a lot closer to the movie The Butler). Paul invites the master, Philemon, to receive his runaway slave as a brother. He wants him to change his heart about who he is, even if Onesimus will remain a servant of his household. Paul is interested in a change of heart, because it is there that everything changes.
The same for Jesus: he wants your heart, because he wants your whole person. Jesus was not a crowd-pleaser trying to keep everyone happy. He was not an entertainer or celebrity trying to remain popular and admired. He was not a sell-out rock star trying to stay on the headlines.
Jesus doesn't want only our happy feelings, or our friendship-of-convenience, nor our passive admiration. Jesus wants our hearts. So today, when crowds are following Him and getting a little too comfortable with who they think this guy is, He offers a kind of loving smack in the face that is meant to wake them up: “Unless you hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters...
unless you hate even your own life... unless you carry your own cross and come after me... unless you renounce all your possessions, you cannot be my disciple.” These are not the words of someone seeking popularity or admiration. These are “fightin' words,” as we sometimes call them, but not in the same way we normally think of them.
We all know what to say or do to get under people's skin. With our friends, our family, and even people we barely know, we know exactly the things we should not say if we want relations to continue smoothly. When we are tired, feeling ill, or upset about something, we might be tempted to actually do exactly what we never should. If we do this, we say, “them are fightin' words.” This is kind of what Jesus does today.
Instead of demanding a conflict between persons, Jesus demands a conflict within ourselves. He forces us to examine where our hearts are: What are the most important things in my life? What do I care about the most? What do I spend my time thinking about, worrying about, hoping for? Is it God? Is it success? Is it wealth? Is it family? Is it the pleasures of an easy life?
Wake up! Jesus says. Examine your heart, and put it in its right place. God wants your heart, because he wants your whole person.
Last week we heard about humility and how it is the foundation of the spiritual life: remembering that we are not the center of the universe, that we didn't make ourselves nor did any of the blessings we have in life (even the ones we think we got on our own) are all in some way from God who works through the world, through others, and even behind the scenes of our own souls to help us become what we are.
Today, we see the next step to building a good spiritual life: love of God. Putting our heart in the right place. Jesus doesn't want us to literally “hate” the good things we have in life, except in this sense: in any way that these things become an obstacle between us and God. If my family, either directly or indirectly takes first place in my life, they are a wall between me and God. If money or popularity or earthly pleasures become all I think about or look for, then I cannot be loving Jesus as I should.
If we love God and always have Him as #1 in our life, then we can keep family, friends, possessions, popularity, whatever: as long as it is not an obstacle. As long as God has our heart and not these things; as long as we are master of all that stuff; as long as they do not hold us on a chain and prevent us from following Jesus, then we can be free to give God our heart, and give Him or entire selves.