Now large crowds were travelling with Jesus. He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-26)
… and a happy Fathers’ Day to all!
I’d really wanted to give a warm and fuzzy Father’s Day sermon today, but it wasn’t obvious how I could weave the warm and fuzzy bits into today’s Gospel!
I don’t think the fact that we get this reading scheduled for Fathers’ Day reflects the caustic wit of those who composed the lectionary as I believe the lectionary was put together a long time before Father’s Day (in its modern form) was ever celebrated, and it was put together in another part of the world where Fathers’ Day is not celebrated on the first Sunday in September.
For those who don’t know, the church has been celebrating fatherhood since the Middle Ages, but celebrations take place, predictably, on St Joseph’s Day, which is the 19th March. The modern, commercialized version of Fathers’ Day really originates in North America, where they celebrate Fathers’ Day in June.
Fathers’ Day has its own history in the U.S., going back to Sonora Dodd, who came up with the idea in 1909 as she sat listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Dodd’s father had raised six children alone after his wife died giving birth so she figured that if mothers were to be recognised for their role in nurturing children, so should fathers! She chose June 5th because it was her father’s birthday!
In Australia we celebrate Fathers’ Day on the first Sunday in September. Why? I assume it’s because it’s the first Sunday in Spring. The other possibility is that some wag thought it would be clever to schedule it for the same Sunday when churches across the country would be hearing the exhortation of Jesus that we have to hate our fathers!
In truth, I’m not sure why we in Oz celebrate Fathers’ Day in September and, in truth, I am even less sure that I can do justice to this bizarre Scriptural command. The one thing I am sure about is that Jesus doesn’t actually want us to hate our fathers (or mothers, wife, children or anybody else in this list)!
That’s a statement not likely to inspire confidence in my preaching – that I’m not entirely sure what Jesus meant but I’m sure he didn’t mean it – but, in truth, this is where all of us who are students of the New Testament start when we read this passage. We know Jesus doesn’t want us to hate anybody, let alone those who are dearest to us, and yet we know for certain that He said this!
Modern academics often question the authenticity of some of the sayings attributed to Jesus. Nobody questions this one, and the reason is obvious enough. If Jesus hadn’t said this, there’s no way the early church would have made it up! Jesus said it – that’s a given. The question is why!
Perhaps Jesus was just trying to wake us up? That’s possible.
The passage begins by saying that ‘large crowds’ were travelling with Jesus (Luke 14;25), and Jesus did have a habit of trying to thin out the crowds in order to shed those who had just been swept up in the tide of His popularity.
It’s one of the odd characteristics of Jesus’ ministry that He often worked hard to weed out people who weren’t sure about why they were there. He did most of his teaching in parables, He said, in order to keep people guessing about His teaching (Mark 4:12). It seems that He wanted to keep His followers off-balance and constantly questioning why they were with Him and what they were doing. Is the ‘hate your father’ exhortation just another example of this – a provocative exhortation designed to get people thinking and talking and questioning amongst themselves as to what they were doing there?
When my brothers and I were little my dad used to read to us at night – epic stories such as “The Lord of the Rings” (long before the movies came out). And every now and then, after he’d been reading for a while, he’d thrown in a line like “and then they all went mad and shot each other” to see if we were still awake. And if we all just continued to smile with eyes glazed over, he knew he’d been reading for a bit too long! Was something like that going on in this case? Was Jesus just trying to keep His followers awake and on their toes?
In truth, I don’t doubt that this was a part of it. As I say, Jesus liked to keep his disciples off-balance. Even so, I don’t think we can really compare Jesus’ words to the type of ridiculous statements my dad used to come out with either. Even if Jesus didn’t mean that we have to ‘hate our fathers’ when he told us to ‘hate our fathers’, He didn’t mean nothing by it either. So what did He mean?
Perhaps He was talking about loyalty? That would certainly make sense.
There’s a passage in Matthew’s Gospel that is very similar to this one where Jesus is recorded as saying “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)
That exhortation raises its own questions, of course, but at least the meaning is straightforward and nobody is being asked to hate anybody.
I don’t doubt that loyalty to Jesus is indeed a part of what is on view in this passage and indeed, as followers of Jesus, we are expected to place our loyalty to Him and to His commandments above all other loyalties.
This is very relevant in our day and context when it’s often stated quite explicitly that allegiance to country is expected to be our primary loyalty.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the polemics, generally directed against religious and ethnic minorities in this country, questioning whether someone can really be Australian and Muslim, for instance – the assumption always being that our common identity as Australians should be more important to us than any specific ethnic or religious identity that might divide us.
These identity issues make a lot of sense to me and, as you know, I’m personally committed to running programs amongst young people that affirm our common humanity while recognising ethnic and religious diversity. Even so, I recognise that these identity issues are complex!
I’m personally committed to helping people recognise their common identity, and when we take a camp for young people I love it when our kids recognise that they have a common identity as Australians that is above and beyond anything that might divide them into smaller groups of Christians or Muslims or Sunni or Shia or European or Arabic or Asian or Indigenous or anything else.
I love the idea, personally, of having common points of identity that unite us, above and beyond the things that divide us. Even so, if I’m going to be true to the teachings of the New Testament, I have to ask myself ‘did Jesus expect me to put my loyalty to Him above my loyalty to country and above all those things that I have in common with those around me?’ and the answer is clearly ‘yes’!
As I say, identity issues are complex, and I personally believe that my identity as a follower of Jesus should be something that actually brings me closer to people of other races and creeds, rather than divides me from them. Even so, these issues are complicated and, more to the point, these questions are not going to be resolved with reference to this passage from the Gospel of Luke, chapter fourteen, as I don’t believe loyalty to Jesus is the real issue in this passage – certainly not the key issue!
The Matthew passage is much more straightforward in that regard. Luke is distinctive, not only because of the introduction of the hate speak, but also because there’s an extra target introduced alongside father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – namely, the self!
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus goes on, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”, and then Jesus spells it out still further:
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.” (Luke 14:28-32)
The point of these short parables is clear enough. They are all about counting the cost, and not getting into something if you’re not prepared to see it through! The fact that Jesus introduces these parables with an exhortation to carry the cross suggests that the focus of this cost will be personal suffering on the part of the disciple, and perhaps that’s the real focus of this passage – that we have to be willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake!
I suspect that the very mention of a parable about building projects is likely to produce pain and anguish amongst some members of the congregation of Holy Trinity – most obviously amongst those who labored over our last building project – the rebuilding of our church hall after the great fire of April 2013!
And now we are looking at another building project – the possibility of redeveloping the rectory site into low-cost housing! The question is, of course, whether we have the resources, lest we lay a foundation only to have people ridicule us, saying “those who began to build are not able to finish!”
Of course the beauty of the Anglican system is that the Diocesan Property Trust makes sure that we never get to that stage. Even so, the point of the parable is clear enough. We have to be willing to count the cost before we start, and the cost would appear to measured here in terms of human suffering.
“When Christ calls us, He bids us come and die!” So said Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his introduction to “The Cost of Discipleship”, and indeed there is no way of by-passing the hard path of suffering for those who would follow Jesus.
“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19) and “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)
To follow Jesus is to live in love, and to love is to suffer. There is no way of by-passing the way of suffering, and obviously this is part of the point of what Jesus is saying in this passage recorded in Luke, chapter 14. Even so, I would still suggest that it is not the key issue. Indeed, the key issue is spelt out quite straightforwardly at the end of the passage.
In Luke 14:33, in the final words of this exhortation, summing up all that’s gone before, Jesus says “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if …”
If you don’t know the verse you might want to guess how it finishes.
- none of you can become my disciple if you haven’t counted the cost?
- none of you can become my disciple if you aren’t willing to suffer?
- none of you can become my disciple if you don’t love me more than father and mother and brother and sister and life itself?
No. Luke 1433 reads: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
And so it turns out that counting the cost is primarily about counting the cost! Yes, it’s a wake-up call and, yes, it’s about loyalty to Jesus and, yes, it’s about being willing to suffer for Christ and the Kingdom BUT, primarily, according to these words recorded in the Gospel of Luke, it’s fundamentally economic!
I don’t pretend to have unraveled everything this passage has to say but the key thrust is clear enough, I think. You have to be ready to give it all away! How hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 19:23)! None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Sermon first preached at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill on September 4th, 2016