Hate Your Family and other inspiring quotes from Jesus
I like to call today’s gospel reading, “Hate your family and other inspiring quotes from Jesus.” Writers would call this a cold open. God bless Luke, the writer of this gospel knows how to grab our attention. We’re listening, so now what? Can Jesus really mean that we ought to hate our family members? At least it doesn’t seem that he is simply joking.
Like much of the Bible we need to interpret Jesus’ call for us to hate our family, and even our life, in a greater context. More than just a play on words, Jesus is using this hyperbolic statement to get at a greater truth. If we take a step back, Jesus is telling a story about serving God. There are times at which serving God and serving family or even our own desires contradict one another.
Mitzi J. Smith compares today’s gospel reading with Luke 16:13 in which Jesus says no servant can serve two masters. In other words there will be times in which our living out our call following Jesus will be in tension with wishes of family, our own desires, and expectations from society.
Grown men and women picking children
Given our emphasis of care on creation these weeks let us consider an example concerning climate change to help illustrate the tension of competing voices. Greta Thurnberg is the sixteen-year-old eco activist from Sweden who has caught the attention of the world. Her Extinction Rebellion movement has been taken up by students here in Victoria, who have led protests on Fridays in the spring. Meanwhile a lot of adult commentators have been downright mean in their criticism of Thurnberg and other teenagers she has inspired. Politicians and media commentators have condescended saying she is only a girl. Others have called her voice shrill. Yet others have commented on the way she looks. Thurnberg has openly spoken of having Asperger’s, so that’s doubly low. And when called to answer for themselves, these commentators will resort to the tactics of bullies everywhere, suggesting they never really meant it, or asking whether she can’t take a joke, and similar things. In other words condescending, manipulative behaviour.
To interpret this in light of our gospel reading, Thurnberg is following her calling to be a steward of the earth supersedes her commitments to family, to school, to society’s expectations. Thurberg’s success is in part due to her own integrity and the message she is proclaiming. Unlike the political leaders who often addresses, instead of making excuses, she considers solutions, and she calls others to action. As a result people sit up and take notice. A local bookstore in downtown Victoria committed to distributing her book to every school library in Victoria. Often we talk down to kids or call them future leaders, but here is a sixteen year old who is already a world leader.
To tell the story closer to home consider the adults in Victoria who criticized local students in middle school and high school who participated in Thurnberg’s Friday Extinction Rebellion strikes. The adults demanded to know why students couldn’t gather for their protests outside of school hours. But of course that’s the whole point of a strike, it get’s people’s attention. There’s a gathering at the legislature steps nearly every day and to be honest most don’t gain much attention. Another day, another cause. People are busy and continue with their lives. The inconvenience and disruption associated with a student strike is the whole point. You can go right back to the Civl Rights Movement and labor organizing. People will listen if there are consequences. Otherwise they’ll just continue ignoring you unless it affects their lives.
Taking Up Our Cross
In our gospel reading Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. This is another way of saying we need to have integrity as Christians and as a church. Although folks outside the church may not articulate a theology of the cross I think a lot of people are yearning to hear this from the church. The idea that we as a church stand for something, that we can articulate what we believe. More than just a service organization, we are called not only to do good works, but to trust in Jesus’ presence of love and grace in our lives. A theology of the cross says that through following Jesus, God is dwelling near to us, witnessing to our struggles in our everyday lives. Through Jesus’ redemptive work in both death and resurrection, God is already there preceding us, drawing near to us.
While taking up our cross sounds daunting, especially when paired with Jesus’ “hate your family” zinger, really it’s about trusting God. Taking a leap of faith, walking humbly with God, and open to new opportunities and paths as they present themselves. Today people are hungry for church with integrity. They are hungry to see an example of more than just the same old words we hear leaders echo without any commitment, without any action.
Greta Thurnberg’s eco movement has taken off in part because it is genuine and it answers a question. Rather than just falling prey to cynicism and anxiety around climate issues, Thurnberg shows a way forward. Imagining and believing we can take action to combat climate change and care for creation.
Often I hear people ask how we can attract younger people to the church. Perhaps we need to listen to them, meet them where they’re at, including on the front steps of the legislature, and ask how we can support them.
Building a tower, laying a foundation, waging war
In the second half of the gospel reading Jesus gives a slew of analogies about planning involved in building a tower, laying a foundation, and waging war. Regardless of whether we are planning to build a tower, lay a foundation, or wage a war, Jesus is building upon his earlier words. Basically if you’re planning on doing a job, make sure you see it through.
Jesus has heard all the lines, how great a speaker he is, how great a healer, how they really want Jesus to be their Messiah, etc. Except Jesus knows many people know how to say nice words but aren’t as reliable with the follow through. They haven’t given thought to how their life would change proclaiming Jesus as Messiah.
For us the takeaway isn’t simply that Jesus is recruiting people to join the trades or the armed forces, but for all of us as would be disciples to take stock of our commitment. I know I struggle with this as well. We get caught up with our own stuff, our own anxieties and concerns, it can become blurry sorting out our various commitments. It can be hard to discern what is our commitment to following Jesus. But we know faith with integrity when we see it, don’t we? Just as teenagers and others have been inspired by Greta Thurnberg, we know when we meet someone committed to their faith.
Cross rooted in Grace
Meeting or reading someone who has taken stock of their discipleship is life-giving. It is rooted in grace. We follow and trust Jesus because the cross is rooted in God’s love and grace. Despite Jesus’ challenging words, following him is not about shaming us or making us feel inadequate. It’s about building us up, supporting us during hard times. A good teacher doesn’t just tell us to continue doing what we are doing, but instilling confidence in us, and then challenging us to be better, willing to catch us when we fall. That is the basis of grace, knowing that it’s not depending on our response or anything we do, but knowing God is there for us no matter what.
Giving up our possessions
The last line of our gospel reading Jesus says, “none of you can be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.” This line makes us squirm as much or more than Jesus telling us to hate our family. Let us take a step back and interpret this in line with the whole gospel reading. Jesus’ call to give up all our possessions is in line with his call for us not to have other commitments that come first.
It’s important to point that Jesus isn’t telling us we ought to live in poverty, but rather that we ought to be committed to alleviating the poverty of others. Sharing out of the abundance God has first given us, we are called to care for one another.
Mitzi J. Smith speculates that Jesus may have been talking to a more wealthy gathering of would be disciples. Perhaps this was a sticking point for them. Certainly these words stand out in our own society in which amassing wealth and privilege is valued highly. In fact the opulence of wealth is abundant around Victoria and Vancouver island. Luxury cars, yachts, beautiful homes abound. And the distance between these amenities and people unable to afford renting a place with adequate space is staggering. I have met one family of five sharing a two bedroom apartment and sometimes the grandparents stay for several months, with seven of them in the apartment. And this is still better than a lot of other situations.
We have so many people with talents and resources in our community. What are ways in which we can find a more equitable sharing? What are structural solutions to the questions at hand? I don’t have ready-made answers and I also do not prescribe that people need to respond to a situation in a given way. I realize we don’t always agree about a chosen path of action. I recognize that I often talk about action and responses to justice issues. Part of getting to know one another as pastor and congregation will be having conversations about the Bible, theology, and our lives. I don’t expect everyone to engage with an issue in the ways I suggest. We all have different priorities and approaches to various issues. Rather I raise issues I think as a church generally we ought to consider. I am also happy for us to sit down and talk about your own ideas and perspectives one on one. I have begun doing this with a half dozen people already this fall and look forward to continuing the conversations.
Wrapping up, remember Jesus tells you to hate your family. We recognize not everyone has a good connection to family. Jesus also wants us to take stock of our lives, to distill what it means to follow him as a disciple, what we have to let go.
Jesus challenges us to be surprised when a theology of the cross appears, when opportunities for grace and action arise. Sometimes a sixteen-year-old has more integrity than a roomful of leaders and power brokers combined. We heed the call of faithful response.
Jesus calls us to make a plan, to estimate what we’ll need to get the job done. Receive grace, receive love, trust that God is near you. Amen.