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. Whoever doesn’t carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. He will first sit down and estimate the cost to see whether he has enough money to finish it, won’t he? Otherwise, if he lays a foundation and can’t finish the building, everyone who watches will begin to ridicule him and say, ‘This person started a building but couldn’t finish it.’ … He who has ears, let him hear!”
I purchased some years back an edition of ‘The Positive Bible’, put out by a guy called Kenneth Winston Caine.
Now I know that there are countless editions of the Bible circulating, in various languages and in various idioms within the same language. Even so, what is distinctive about ‘The Positive Bible’ is not the language but the fact that it is an abridged version (Readers-Digest style), covering the highlights and leaving out what the editors consider to be the padding and the fluff!
In ‘The Positive Bible’ I was promised ‘all the good stuff and nothing else!’ Indeed, in the promo material I read, one of the most enticing promises was that I could ‘read the whole Bible in about an hour!’ Evidently there is a lot left out of this particular edition. And needless to say, today’s Gospel reading today from Luke chapter 14 didn’t make the cut!
“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.
Not very positive, is it? If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you’ve gotta hate your mother, hate your father, and your wife, and your children, brothers, sisters etc., You’ve gotta hate, hate, hate them all!
Did I remember to wish everybody a happy ‘Father’s Day’ today? I think I did. It hardly seems an appropriate day to have this reading on, does it? Fathers indeed are the first ones targeted on the list!
People write to me all the time and tell me how we’ve got to watch out for the Muslims because it says in the Quran that you’ve got to kill all the infidels (or something like that). I always respond by saying that the Quran says a lot of things AND that what it says is, in the end, less important than how what it says is interpreted, and the same is true of the Bible.
The Bible says a lot of things, and I can see some anti-Christian crusader using Luke 14 as a proof-text demonstrating the immorality of Jesus! ‘Did you know that it says in the Christian Bible that you are supposed to hate your entire family’ – mother father, sister, everybody! Well the Bible says a lot of things, and it all comes down to how you interpret those things.
But how do you interpret away the offensiveness of words like this, and is that even a legitimate thing for a good Evangelical preacher like me to attempt? For it’s not as if there is any ambiguity in language here. ‘Hate’ means ‘hate’, and it’s not as if the Greek word for hate has a secondary meaning such as ‘be nice to’ such that this offence might be based upon a simple confusion.
This is when I wish we had Fred Nile preaching (sorta). I don’t mean to single him out really but I’d love to hear some politician from one of the so-called ‘Christian’ political parties speak on this passage, for these politicians know their Bibles and yet are always promoting ‘Christian values’ which is a term that is always understood to be entirely synonymous with ‘family values’.
You know as well as I that when you tune in to a Christian radio station you are not going to be listening to heavy rock or death metal but to easy going, family-friendly music, and you know when you vote for a Christian political party that it’s going to be promoting ‘family values’ and their associated wholesome institutions such as two-parent families, monogamy, and celibacy before marriage, which are great, except that I think it may be a bit dishonest to label these things as being based on the teachings of Jesus, just as I wonder whether Jesus’ tastes in music really have anything to do with the sort of material that plays on these stations that brand themselves with His image.
I think as students of the New Testament we have to be honest and say that Jesus’ attitude towards marriage and family is, at times, a little ambiguous and that, ironically, the strong moral norms espoused by these political parties that appeal to Jesus as their source of authority are probably more in line with the prescriptions of Judaism, and probably also Islam, both of which are far less ambiguous in their teachings on marriage and family than Jesus!
That is an irony, but it’s an irony that I think also helps us to understand the context in which Jesus made His bizarre pronouncements about marriage and family. He didn’t make them in a vacuum but to people that were actually extremely ‘pro family’ – the Jews being possibly the most tribal (and hence most intensely family-orientated) society of all time! And we know too that the 1st Century Romans similarly idealised the family to the point of obsession.
In other words, Jesus was speaking to people who believed that the way to have a full and good life was to have a strong marriage, a stable family, and well-groomed children, and perhaps this is what He was calling into question?
When I was a teenager I had a quite clear vision of what a full and perfect life was like, and it involved spending all my time with my mates, doing things like rock-fishing and playing golf and other things that I have hardly done at all since I was a teenager.
When you get a bit older you get a job and your idea of the perfect life changes as you build in concepts of success and wealth and power.
And then you fall in love and your perfect life morphs into something else again, involving spending endless time with your beloved and raising a family together of beautiful and perfectly-behaved children.
And so we find ourselves as adults, embarking upon this dream of home and family, where we envisage emotional fulfilment alongside vocational success. But as days and years go by we inevitably find that some (if not all) of these things start to fall apart – our marriage hits the rocks as our finances hit the skids, and our children turn out not to be the perfect embodiments of beauty and innocence that we had anticipated, but increasingly look a lot more like we did at their age, and all of a sudden we ain’t livin’ the dream no more!
And we can live in denial for a while, and blame the boss or blame the government or blame the gays or the Muslims or someone else – saying that it’s their fault that society isn’t what it used to be, and that’s why my family isn’t what it ought to be, and that’s why my children aren’t turning out the way they should be turning out. And we can go on maintaining that we’d still be living the dream if we could only get things back to the way they used to be, or we can follow Jesus, and taken on a bigger dream.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple Unless you give up all that you have you cannot be my disciple/
It’s a very blunt way of putting it, but the point is that the dreams are not compatible. We cannot maintain our hopes for 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 if we are going to take on Jesus’ vision and enter the chaos of discipleship.
Jesus puts it in a way that strikes at our very heart, as He asks us to loosen our hold on the things that we cherish most, including the people who mean the most to us in this world, and yet we do understand too that in the end we cannot serve more than one master.
We have to drop the dream of the perfect family living in perfect peace, just as we have to drop the dream of becoming rich and famous and sticking it to all those school-teachers who told us we’d never amount to anything, just as we have to drop all those dreams of personal greatness that we might have concocted for ourselves over the years, because in the end we’ve only got the space and the energy for one dream, and that’s going to have to be the dream that Christ supplies.
It doesn’t seem fair that He should demand so much of us – that everything need be laid upon this alter, everything put at risk – and yet I see a softer side to Jesus’ demands. For while, on the one hand, Jesus seems to be intruding into our hopes and dreams for our families, on the other hand Jesus is also liberating us from investing all our energy into dreams that will ultimately frustrate us!
For these relationships – as significant as they are – are not the only things that matter in this life, and so even when we have failed in any and all of these areas – when we’ve failed our lovers, partners, spouses and friends, and when we’ve accepted that we are less-than-perfect children to our parents just as we are often hopeless parents to our children – even then, when we’ve botched up most of the most important relationships we have in this world, even then … it is not the end, that is not all there is. Jesus is still with us, and the path of discipleship is still open.
I don’t know if that angle on the text helps take any of the sting out of Jesus’ words in Luke 14. I don’t know. Either way, I don’t think the passage is ever going to make it into Kenneth Caine’s ‘Positive Bible’. Even so, it is less important that all truth comes to us in a way that makes us feel warm and fuzzy than it is that we get the message, which in this case is a sobering challenge to appreciate what we are getting ourselves in to when we make the decision to follow Jesus. Lest we end up like some builder who isn’t able to finish his project or a king with insufficient troops to fight his battles. We need to be soberly aware of what we are getting ourselves in to when we sign up with Jesus.
For the dangerous possibility is that we who follow Jesus might end up on exactly the same path as Jesus Himself – He who had to let go of all His possessions for the sake of His work, He who despised his own family (in the sense that He refused to be reeled in by them when they tried to bring Him under control), He who despised His own life in the sense that He refused to sacrifice truth for the sake of self-preservation.
Following Jesus is a costly decision. It takes us down a difficult path. It is the road less travelled, and yet it is the road to glory, and life in abundance. Amen
First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, September 5, 2010.