“Following this guy Jesus is Different”

Posted: August 30, 2022 in Uncategorized

Luke 14: 25-33 “Following this guy Jesus is Different”

We note at the beginning that in the lectionary this text is preceded by the parable of the great banquet (14: 15-24).  And that there; those invited to the banquet declined to attend, citing other priorities–care of land, possessions (oxen), and family (newly married). We note also that the use of the word hate is not a call to not love our father, mother, wife and children; it is not a call to harm our family, or wish them ill; it is rather, a call to heed the radical nature of the call Jesus places on those who would follow him, to count the cost and to realize “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple”.  Luke has Jesus using the age-old custom of rhetorical challenge in his presentation. It was not uncommon for such a use of the language to emphasize a point or to awaken attention to what follows.

Luke has Jesus using extremes of language to make a so-called ‘point’. For the object of his concern is, according to William Loader, family power. “Family power and control which will not release from its womb, but has become a cage, a prison, but more often a comfortable and secure place in which to turn aside from one’s potential and the world’s challenge”. (WLoader Web site 2004) And Bill Loader goes on: “The voice of Jesus articulates human need…  and calls people to discipleship.  Discipleship means a relationship of learning and growth with Jesus as the teacher and God as God, not family”. (WLoader Web site 2004) In a society where individuals had no real social existence apart from belonging to a family, Luke’s Jesus is therefore “hatred of family is a condition of discipleship…  Jesus is therefore confronting the social structures that governed his society at their core”. (Funk & Hoover 1993:353)

This theme of costliness has been building throughout Luke’s account of the ministry of Jesus. There is a very real cost to being a follower of Jesus. It will cost the entirety of your being (9:23–27). There is not time to go back and bury the dead (9:60), no time to say farewell (9:61). The cost of discipleship is nothing less than a complete breach with the things of this world. And what are the things of this world in a culture based on the concept of family if not our father, mother, wife, and children? Does this mean that we can have no relationship with our mothers and fathers, our sister and brothers? No, of course not. As we look to the teachings of Jesus on what it means to follow him, we see that it would be impossible to follow him and not have deep meaningful relationships, but it does mean that our relationships are transformed by our relationship with our God when we heed the challenge Jesus offers us. Our relationships with everyone from family to neighbour, happen in light of heeding what Jesus is suggesting. And this relationship, we are assured, will cause discord. What can be promised when the change is clearly understood is that persecution will come to those who follow him; there will be those in the world, those who are counted as friends, and those who are family who will reject us—that is the cost of following Jesus. It does not mean that family will reject one but that the nature of the resistance and the fear of change will be like rejection of family which is in that time and culture the very bedrock of being human. Without the family life would be impossible. The call to love one’s neighbour, to accept the stranger, to invite the outcast into one’s life are all in the similar vein, they are like the cost of loss of family.

The truth is that I need you as the other

I need you to ask me why I care for you this way.

I need you to wonder how I could smile every day.

The truth is that I need you as the other

The truth is that you make my life worthy

Having you around makes my day smooth and easy.

Without you it is hard for me to end a day fulfilled.

The truth is that you make my life worthy

The truth is that you give me reason to love

Without you I cannot say “I’ve loved you since the day I met you.”

I cannot stare at you from afar and know the deep feelings that rend me silent.

The truth is that you give me reason to love

The truth is that without you I cannot love

In you I see the stories of the one you meet

You share the love you have known that stops my heart from beating.

You speak of happiness with a smile that makes me weep with joy

The truth is that without you I cannot love.

The truth is that I need you as the other

I need to be able to say, “I could be the one that loves you like you love me.

There’s nothing I would do better than to be able to keep it this way,

Wishing that you would know all the secrets I’ve kept,

Especially those that have kept our friendship sure and true.

The truth is that I need you as the other.

“Great crowds were going along with him.”  This reminds us both that Jesus is still journeying toward Jerusalem, as he has been since 9:51, and that Jesus had a large popular following. In our obsession with individualism, we can easily forget:  Jesus was beloved by many. What he said was universal and not just for the few. He “turned” to address them.  Again, in Luke, this is not unusual.  Jesus is said to “turn” and speak to someone, or some group, on six different occasions, usually with a message of special import.  This one is stark:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, that one is not able to be my disciple.”

This is reminiscent of episodes from Paolo Pasolini’s film, The Gospel according to Matthew.  From the perspective of the camera, the viewer is in the crowd following Jesus.  Most of the time, one can only see his back, though, occasionally, he turns around to deliver a difficult saying, almost as if daring people to continue following him. 

Luke appears to be doing something like that here.  The fundamental message is completely uncompromising.  You are “not able” to be a follower if you place anything, even your own family, even your own life, above following Jesus. Luke has several sayings of Jesus which could be interpreted as “anti-family.”  There are at least six passages thought to be like this. 8: 19-21, 9:59-62, 12:51-53, 14: 26-27, 18:29, 21:16.)  Of these passages, this week’s saying is the most abrupt.  (We note that the parallel saying in Matthew (10:37) says nothing about hate (miseo).  Instead, in Matthew, Jesus cautions against loving family “more than me.”) 

We might also note that “Hate” should be understood in the context of the first-century middle-eastern world.  It is not so much an emotional position, but a matter of honour and shame. In the ancient world…hating one’s family meant doing something that injured them, particularly by disgracing them.  Life was family centered, and the honour of the family was very highly valued.  Every family member was expected to protect the honour of the family.  If some members joined a suspect movement and abandoned their home, this brought disgrace on the family… (p. 235) 

This would have been a real concern particularly at the time Luke was writing.  And we know even today that division within families quite often accompanies the birth of new social or religious movements. Letters survive to this day of some Roman families who complained that their son or daughter had run off and joined some group called the “Christians.”  No doubt some Jewish families also felt the strain of divided loyalties, and no doubt some felt dishonoured by a family member’s participation in the Jesus movement.  Jesus’ saying nevertheless reflects the all-encompassing nature of following him.  The depth of loyalty was akin to giving precedence over family loyalty when journeying with Jesus “on the way”.   

This does not belittle the word “hate” because it is laden with emotion in our cultural context.  It suggests repulsion at a visceral level.  In this case, however, in the context of first century middle-eastern culture, to “hate” one’s own self means that the person disconnects from everything that has heretofore defined that person. To put it another way, one’s past no longer defines who they are.  One’s identity is no longer formed by one’s former allegiances, nor one’s experiences in life, nor even one’s genetics.  These are part of the old world which is giving way to the new world of a God centered existence. Followers of Jesus are not defined by the past, but by their work in the present and their future hope. And then Luke has another go, this time with what could be termed a haymaker punch He says: “Whoever does not bear their cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple.”  Followers of Jesus live with the expectation that they may meet the same fate as will Jesus. Like the short-lived lives of prophets throughout Judaism so too are those who follow the guy Jesus, destined for rejection and very likely by those closest to one.

And again, what is the nature of this rejection? How does one measure this cost? ‘Which of you, wanting to build a tower, does not first sit (and) count the cost, if he has (enough) to complete? –that lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish, all the ones seeing might begin to mock him, saying, ‘This person 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 to deliberate if he is able with ten thousand to meet with twenty thousand coming upon him?  And if not, yet being far from him, he sent a message asking for peace.

A Prisoner of Doubt

This prisoner is not bound by bars of steel,
but the barriers to freedom, remain just as real.
There is no judge that can free one on bail,
and no able lawyer that can keep one from jail.
It started so simply, just a concern here and there,
or maybe a bad memory, that grew in thin air.

One started to repeat, things already said,
offering faint clues as to the negative ahead.
One slowly grows worse, as the stories flash by
One knows something is wrong, but not what, nor why.
To try to go anywhere becomes such a task,
for over and over, the same questions I’d ask.

Then comes the times when how and why become true,
I beg: “Please help me!” and weep a world of blue.
Now’s the time doubt becomes the bus,
and every day is a dilemma to be had and such a big fuss.

The answers we give seem like assurances no one can receive.
Slowly, but surely, the doubting shuts doors we believe.

Now we can see, the beginning of the end.
What is this illness, with no hope to be found?
Doubt as a prisoner of fear

Has no place in a faith that is dear

Doubt as an opportunity to be without fear is connection

A blessing of hope and resurrection.

The two (semi)-parables of our lectionary suggest making reasonable assessments of success–or failure–before embarking on a task.  What if one gets started building a tower, or conducting a war, only to find out that their resources are not sufficient to complete it?  The result will be shame–“all the ones seeing might begin to mock him”–which, as mentioned above, was a weighty matter in a culture where issues of honour and shame were paramount.  Jesus’ would-be followers are to consider quite thoroughly whether or not they have the intestinal “resources” to follow Jesus.

The lection concludes with a summary statement:  “So, therefore, any one of you who does not forsake (apotasso) all that he has is not able to be my disciple.”  This is the third time in this short lection that Jesus has proposed that a person is “not able to” do something.  The phrase is ou dunatai einai–“not able to be” my disciple. 

First, anyone who puts close relationships before Jesus is “not able to be” his disciple.  Second, anyone who does not bear their cross is “not able.”  Third, anyone who does not forsake “all that he has” is “not able.”

We saw it coming in the parable of the great banquet.  The first invitees all had business (or new wives) to attend to.  In this lection, which follows immediately upon that one, we see that all of one’s past–possessions, land, family, assets, “all that he has”–is not able to deliver.  They are all provisional, but walking the Jesus Way, following This Guy Jesus is ultimate. Amen.

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