Here’s the rub: The fact that I can know that God does not want me to give up all worldly goods because I support a child is precisely why I cannot rest easy. The fact that my vocation is perfectly acceptable to God is why Jesus’ thunderous words still apply to me. Jesus’ dramatic, hyperbolic words are a reminder that even while maintaining my vocation as a petit bourgeois, I can always be more radical in how I love and how I give to my fellow man. “Fearful it is to fall in the hands of the living God,” Kierkegaard reminds us in the same passage I quoted above. And how reassuring it would be for petit bourgeois Christians like myself to tell ourselves that the way Jesus preaches is for the others, for those who go into the desert.
To put it simply: poverty sine glosa is not the only way for the Christian. But that reminder should always be followed up by the always urgent reminder that we could still do with a lot less glosa and a lot more poverty.
Jesus’ hyperbole is there to remind us that we can always do more. “Let the dead bury their dead,” Christ commands us! We cannot take that to mean that all Christians everywhere should fail to pay respect to deceased loved ones. But neither can we—and this attitude is much more common, much more destructive—simply wave a magic wand of “Well, that’s hyperbole” and turn this fiery admonition into some bland platitude about detachment from worldliness. How much of my attachment to my family is a genuine expression of Christian charity, and how much is rote habit, social pressure, mere convenience that draws me away from Christ? The hyperbole is too strong for me to rest easy. How many “good Catholic” parents bemoan the decline in priests until Junior announces that he is going to the seminary and they won’t have grandchildren? Let the dead bury their dead.