“Here’s lookin’ at you kid!”
One of the most iconic lines from cinema history – but do you remember which film it came from?
That’s right – Casablanca!
Ilsa is stood on the tarmac gazing into Rick’s eyes as he sends her off to the aeroplane to join her husband Victor already on board. The film has been about the love triangle between the three main characters, Ilsa, her husband Victor Laszlo (with whom she shares a warm marriage) and Rick – the love of her life.
A great romantic story released in 1942 that still keeps us gripped today. Film and television producers know that a good love triangle makes for a good story line and keeps us all entertained. From Melanie, Ashley and Scarlett in Gone with the Wind to Ross, Rachel and Emily in Friends – we love to see the intrigues, friction and passion unfold before our eyes. Who do they love the most? Who will they choose?
In today’s gospel. Matthew presents us with the ultimate love triangle. Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
In this love triangle it’s not Ilsa, Victor and Rick, there are no fictional characters. This love triangle involves Jesus, us, and our dearest relatives.
In this love triangle we are confronted with two questions. What is your most important relationship? Who do you love the most?
After hearing Jesus’ words it’s not hard to figure out the correct answer. The correct answer is of course, Jesus – hard as it sounds to some of us. But is that the answer that we display in our everyday lives – is this our ‘lived answer’? Does the way we behave demonstrate that our relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in our lives?
Many of us would like to think that our ‘lived answer’ is Jesus. We would like to say with confidence that Jesus is our most important relationship, that he is the one we love most. But Love triangles, as we see in the films, are places of struggle and conflict. Regardless of what we would like to think or say, what does the evidence of how we live our lives show?
What about the vows and promises we make to our ‘significant others’? Do we choose Jesus over them? How can we do that? As hard as it may be, that’s what Jesus said we must do.
According to most of our diaries and calendars our most important relationship is with our workplace, the golf course, the pub and countless other ‘appointments’. For some of us, that’s where we spend more time than anywhere else (at least we did in a pre-lockdown world)!
If they were to look at our bank statements some might say, “Hey – They’ve got a thing going with Tesco, Amazon or Ebay – that’s where they spend all their money.”
Our ‘lived answer’ reveals many different love interests in our lives.
And if Jesus asks us to love him more than our own parents and children, our own flesh and blood, then he also does so with everything else about our lives. There can be only one primary relationship in our lives and Jesus says it is to be with him.
His demand for primacy is not limited to our mother and father or our son and daughter. It’s a primacy over everyone and everything in our lives. He could have easily continued the list.
- Whoever loves their friend more than me is not worthy of me.
- Whoever loves work more than me is not worthy of me.
- Whoever loves power, reputation, or wealth more than me is not worthy of me.
- Whoever loves country and flag more than me is not worthy of me.
- Whoever loves politics, agendas, or ideology more than me is not worthy of me.
- Whoever loves church, denomination, beliefs and practices more than me is not worthy of me.
- Whoever loves self more than me is not worthy of me.
- Whoever loves anyone or anything more than me is not worthy of me.
So, my dear friends, tell me, what are the love triangles in your lives? What are your most important relationships? Who do you love the most?
Today’s gospel confronts us with the many love triangles in which we all live and struggle – and it demands we make a choice.
Does that mean we must reject our parents, our children, our spouses, and all other love interests? Well, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying or what he is asking. Jesus is not demanding exclusivity, but he is demanding priority. Jesus refuses to be just another one of our many love interests.
And we must understand that Jesus’ refusal to be just another love interest, his demand for priority, is for our own good as well as the good of our love interests.
We can only ever have one primary relationship. That one relationship gives us identity and it gives our lives meaning and direction. It becomes the lens through which we see the world, each other, and ourselves. It is the foundation on which we build our lives. It guides the choices we make, the words we say, and the ways in which we act and relate. It sets a trajectory for our lives and determines how we love. Why then would we want it to be something or someone other than Jesus, God embodied in human life, flesh, and blood?
So how do we reconcile the right answer, Jesus, with the lived answer of our lives? How do we pick Jesus over our child, our spouse, our friend, our mum and dad? How do we look into their faces and say, “I love Jesus more?”
Whilst preparing for this sermon I came across a brief story about a woman who I think had figured this out. One day she told her husband,
“When you love God most, you love me best.”
What a profound thought. There is great wisdom in what she said. It breaks the triangle. No one is left out, excluded, or rejected.
“When you love God most, you love me best.”
God, not ourselves, becomes the source and origin of our love. This is the love by which we take up our cross and follow Jesus, the same love with which Jesus loves us.
We want to love our families best. We want to love our friends best. We want to love each other best. I think we all want to love as best we can. We do that only when we choose Jesus first.
So we don’t need to feel torn between God and the people around us that we love. We don’t need to feel that we have to make a choice between Jesus and our relative or friend who’s not really interested in church.
We love others best when we love God most.
And at the end of the day, dear friends,
“We’ll always have Paris!”
Blessings on you and those you love this coming week,