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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before September 8, 2013

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Luke 14:25-33

 25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For 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? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or 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? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

What I Am Learning:

This is another challenging text.

Jesus is all about love and reconciliation - how can he tell us to "hate" our father and mother?

What does he mean by "take up your cross and follow me"?

Does he really mean "give up all your possessions"?

I remember very well preaching sermons on this text and not knowing what to say. I probably said something vague.

Since I began to read the work of Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, John Pilch and others this text has begun to come alive for me.

The term "hate" here is not about emotionally hating your family. It is not about despising them.

The Hebrew people believed in honoring your father and mother. Again this is not about having emotions about your family.

To honor your father and mother meant to live out the expectations of their community in such a way as to make your parents honor rating go up, or at least not to diminish their honor rating.

The problem here, of course, having to live out the expectations of the community. In that society there was very little room for individual action, their whole survival depended on doing what was expected of them.

So when Jesus tells them to "hate" their family he is telling them, in a way unmistakable to first century Palestinians, that to be a disciple of Jesus means to break free from the expectations of their community.

We live in an individualist society in which we prize (so we say!) individual choice and identity. But even for us it is hard to go against the grain of society's expectations. How much harder it must have been for them!

So this command to "hate" is really a command to risk offending your family  and your community by joining Jesus' movement.

Romans used crucifixion to intimidate the whole population. It was a horrendous, torturous death. Seeing their family members and fellow Hebrew people naked on crosses, accused of being thieves and highway robbers shamed the people.

The Romans used crucifixion for one kind of criminal: to kill and humiliate revolutionaries.

Now just ponder this for a moment.

When Jesus says that to follow him we must "take up our cross and follow him" I think he means this: you must join Jesus in nonviolent, public leadership transforming the Roman Empire from within.

Nonviolent or not, Romans did not take to kindly to revolutionaries. Jesus asks his disciples to risk their lives, and even risk being crucified. They would need to live with this risk every day and every hour and to bear the weight of the risk.

This is why he goes into this story about "counting the cost." In other words, he tells the crowd not to follow him unless they have carefully considered what they are getting themselves into.

The commitment he required was so total, that they would need to give up their possessions as well.

These statements by Jesus are hard. We could ask if anyone, upon hearing them, would want to count the cost and say "Yes" to following Jesus.

Cost is always related to what you get, however. If someone offered me  a computer for $200 and I found out it was a ten-year-old Windows machine I would think it was expensive. If someone offered me a computer for $1,000 and I found out it was a brand new Macbook Air I would say it was cheap.

What Jesus is working toward is the healing and creation of the world.

In his context, dominated by the Roman Empire, it meant

  • separating yourself from your family and the expectations of your community
  • risking your life in nonviolent public leadership in trying to change the Roman Empire from within
  • giving up your possessions

The risks and costs were worth it because God's way of mutuality was worth dying for. It was quite literally "the way of life." The risks and costs were worth it because the domination/submission system of the Romans was bringing death and destruction anyway. It was quite literally "the way of death."

In any context, being a disciple of Jesus means a total commitment to joining Jesus in the healing and creation of the world.

What are the "ways of death" that we currently participate in?

How can we withdraw our support from the "ways of death" of our own culture?

Are we willing to take risks to join Jesus "the way of life?"

This kind of risk is not about despising life, or our own life. It is risking life on behalf of all life.

Another way to say all this: are we willing to spend our time, our life in service God's way of mutuality?