“Now, salt is good. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can its flavour be restored? It is suitable neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. People throw it away. He who has ears, let him hear!”
As soon as I noticed that our Gospel reading today was the one that begins by telling us that we’ve got to ‘hate our mothers and fathers’, I decided then and there to give my sermon today onPaul’s Letter to Philemon!
No, as much as I’d like to do that, I feel I have to stick with “hate your mother and father”. I can’t really do otherwise, can I? It’s a text that’s just crying out to be defused, isn’t it?
If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you’ve gotta “hate your mother and father and wife and children and brothers and sisters and, yes, even your own life” – hate them, hate them, hate them all!
… ‘Oh, I’m not sure that I remembered earlier to greet Ange’s mother and father (Di and Frank) who are with us today. They’ve come all the way up from Dalmeny to be here. It’s just lovely to have you two with us … lovely!
Look! If you’re thinking Di and Frank picked the wrong week to be here, it was only a couple of weeks back that Jesus was telling us how He was turning father against son and son against father, and mother against daughter and daughter against mother and absolutely everybody against the mother-in-law!
In truth, you’ve gotta pick your weeks when your son-in-law is pastoring a church that follows the lectionary, don’t you? And I suspect that this is what is going on with the phone when Ange invites mum and dad to stay: “What, this Sunday? Hang on … that’s the 14th Sunday in Pentecost, isn’t it? Let me check the readings and get back to you!”
It’s dangerous stuff, these teachings of the Gospels, and none more dangerous than this teaching!
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, etc., etc. he cannot be my disciple”
What do we make of this? It’s an embarrassment, isn’t it?
I received an email from our Archdeacon this week, warning us about a certain Islamic lay-preacher who is going around and challenging local churches to engage him in public debate.
The warning we were given was that, based on the ‘negative experience’ of those who have dealt with this guy thus far, we should NOT agree to engage him in public debate. And from what I could work out, the reason for avoiding this guy is that our guys have thus far been losing their debates!
I don’t know exactly who this guy is. I’m guessing that he’s a Sunni Moslem, with a strong emphasis on the rational nature of Islam, as contrasted with the seemingly irrational nature of Christian doctrine. And let’s be honest; the most serious problem we have to deal with in such debates is the Bible itself
I can see this guy asking, “Hang on! Is not this Jesus, who you say is the physical embodiment of Divine Love, also the guy who told us that we had to hate our mother and fathers and sisters and brothers and children?” And I’d be saying, “yeah, well .. , He did say that” (but thinking, “Damn! I was hoping he hadn’t come across that bit”)!
It’s a bit of an embarrassment.
And I know that when He said we’ve got to hate them, that He didn’t really mean that we shouldhate them, but that IS what He said, and we’re just gonna have to wear that! It’s in the book!
One positive, ‘Good News’ dimension to this, mind you, is that it gives us a good response to give to those whiny, pseudo-academics who’ve just finished reading “The Da Vinci Code” and think they’ve got this whole Christian religion thing all worked out. “Yeah, but I think the Bible stories were just put together by the church, a long time after Jesus was off the scene!”
“C’mon! Do you really think any of us would have written this?” No way! Not in a society that equates ‘Christian values’ with ‘family values’.
Was it any different back in the days when the New Testament was written? Were they any less‘pro family’ back then? Certainly the Jews were NOT, being the most tribal (and hence most intensely family-orientated) society of all time! And certainly not the 1st Century Romans either, who apparently idealised the family to the point of obsession, though maybe this helps explain why Jesus had to speak so directly on the matter, to the point of just being blatantly offensive!
‘Hate your mother, hate your father, hate your wife, hate your life!’ I guess we really ought to put these statements in the context of the passage as a whole that Jesus is dealing with, which is part of Jesus’ wisdom teaching.
I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly explored with you before the different genres of literature in theNew Testament. Certainly though wisdom teaching is not the form of dialogue Jesus is best remembered for.
Divine truths about the nature of the Kingdom of God was the heart of Jesus’ teaching, as communicated most often through His parables. Eschatological preaching – focusing on the end times – was also common. Wisdom teaching is there too though, often interspersed..
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)
Those are the words of a wisdom teacher. Follow my words and your life will be well-founded. You will be like a rock, such that when the winds blow and the waves roll and the lightening strikes, you will stand firm, because your life is founded upon solid principles.
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.
Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” (Luke 14:28-32)
This is wisdom teaching. It appeals to common sense. The end-goal is a full and peaceful life, and if you follow the good advice, you’ll be like the general who makes peace with the guy who has the army twice his size, You and your people will live, and live well, and if you don’t follow the advice, you pay for it!
The Bible as a whole has lots of this sort of wisdom literature. The book of Proverbs is the most obvious example, along with a significant number of wisdom psalms. The books of Job and Ecclesiastes are different sorts of examples of wisdom literature – aiming not so much to help us make sense of life nor of God, but aiming rather just to help us live full and good lives.
‘Seek wisdom, choose your friends carefully, work hard, save what you can, and stay away from sex-workers.’ That’s my one-line summary of the book of Proverbs. Yes, it’s aimed almost exclusively at men. Yes, it assumes a stable family environment where fathers pass on to their sons those truths that have been passed down to them through the generations. Yes, it’s all very middle-class, with specific attention given to the upwardly mobile, who are seeking positions in the King’s court, and who need to know how to make the right moves, choose the right friends, and when to hold their tongues!
We have modern wisdom teachers of course – economic and political advisors. Bankers can play the role of wisdom teachers, as do TV money-men, who advise us on how to maximise your super while minimizing your tax. This is wisdom. Follow it and you will live a full life. It’s common sense.
And what we have today, on the lips of Jesus, is more wisdom teaching. Follow it and you will live a full life. It’s common sense. The only problem with this wisdom teaching of Jesus is that so much of it just sounds insane, especially when compared with the common sense stuff you get in Proverbs!
Did you catch the punch line of those stories Jesus told – the stories that I read you earlier, about the builder and the warrior-king?
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost … Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?”
OK. Where is this leading? It’s not hard to work out, is it. “Therefore”, says Jesus, “count the cost of discipleship”. And we trust that He’ll just leave it for us right there in sufficiently general terms. But NO! He doesn’t just leave it there for us to work out for ourselves at all, does He? No! What does Jesus say? He concludes with, “In the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.” (Luke 14:33)
“Oh! Where is the wisdom in that, Lord?!” If this is indeed the application of the two sermons and the climax of the passage as a whole, where is the wisdom in that? How is that going to lead you or me to having a better, fuller, more peaceful life?
“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus did say that, didn’t he (in John 10)? Oh, how I wish that he had defined a little more clearly for us exactly what he meant by ‘abundant life’!
I think ‘abundant life’, I think … girls. I think fine wine. I think relaxing back on a beach without too much to do. I think of visiting far-flung exotic countries … as a tourist!
‘That wasn’t the abundant life you were talking about, was it Lord? Your concept of the abundant life involves shedding a lot more blood, doesn’t it? Why didn;t you tell me that more clearly …?
Well, I guess you did tell me very clearly, right here in Luke 14 for example, along with a hundred other places. OK, I guess I was warned, but sometimes I still find it all a hard to understand’
In short: Jesus’ idea of the full life is not to be confused with any other good idea of a comfortable life, is it? On the contrary, when Jesus gets in and starts taking over our lives, everything is called into question, isn’t it?
All our long-held hopes and dreams to live a quiet and stable life in a peaceful suburban home, bringing up quiet, serenely happy children, with the smell of home-baked bread and apple-pie in the background – all that is called into question, isn’t it!
Even the most fundamental of our relationships – our devotion to our parents, to our partners, to our children – everything is called into question by Jesus, everything has to be brought forward and laid upon the alter, everything has to be put at risk because He wants it all!
It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Let me give Him what I can afford! Let me give him my Sunday mornings! Let me even give Him my ten per cent!
No! It’s not enough! He wants it all – my house, my car, my campsite, mum, dad, the wife, the kids, every piece of food in the pantry, every single penny I’ve had saved up in the bank – He wants it all. And even if He plans to give most of it straight back, He doesn;t give us any guarantees, and you’re going to have to trust Him with the whole kit and caboodle first before you can know for sure how it’s all going to turn out!
This is discipleship. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what is required of all of us who take up the call to enlist in Christ’s army – that we give over to Him everything that we have and everything that we are!
And if we are tempted to hold some things back – be it a treasured possession or a treasured relationship, even be it our god-given relationship of unbreakable love for mum and dad, even be it our passionate commitment to our lovers and our children – then we’d better sit down soberly and count the cost, like the builder and the general, and work out whether we are really willing to carry through with what we have got ourselves into!
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?”
It seems that you’re either in or your out with Jesus. Give Him everything or give Him nothing. It’s His way or the highway!
Why does He have to be so extreme? I don;t know. All I can think is that He knows that He needs our total obedience if He is going to be able to do with us all the crazy and wonderful, life-giving, and beautiful things He has planned for us.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, September 2007.