BIBLE READINGS: Jeremiah 18:1-11 Luke 14:25-33
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even hate his own life, they cannot be my disciple.
It does not get much more extreme than this! This the declaration of a religious extremist - a fanatic! Does that sound like the Jesus you know – or read about?
A Hindu might say “That Jesus may well be one of the many incarnations, but he sometimes disappoints me! He is so self-important. He puts himself ahead of everyone else.”
Maybe such a strong reaction from a person of another faith, touches the edges of something many Christians may have felt but never dared say aloud. Maybe Jesus was an extremist. To “hate one’s father and mother, sisters and brother”? What is going on here? To cut across one’s loyalty to family, sounds a very extreme thing to do.
Yet Jesus was not on an ego trip. To be a disciple of Jesus was not putting Jesus in top position, but God. The burning passion of Jesus was God: God’s purposes, God’s truth, God’s compassion, God’s love. He focussed his message on the kingdom of God. Seek first the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is among you, turn around and believe.
So when he says: “If you are going to follow me” he is saying : “If you are going to share my passion for God..... my enthusiasm....my task.....my reason for living.....the true love of my life.” To put God first means not only putting God before loved ones but also putting God before your own life.
It is not self-importance but God importance that inspires Jesus to make his extremist claim.
But why did Jesus use that offensive word “hate”?
There is a possibility that we have a mix up in translation here. Jesus taught in the Aramaic language of the common people. In Aramaic the words for “hate” and “forsake” are very similar. It is certainly possible that later writers, translating Aramaic into Greek, got the translation wrong. But it doesn't really matter. “Forsake” soften things a little, but it is still rather extremist.
When Jesus says his followers must if necessary be prepared to “hate” loved ones and “hate” our own lives. he is trying to convey the utter primacy of God. He is not a half-bored philosopher reading a carefully prepared paper to students. Jesus is a passionate man caught up in a vision of God’s new world, yet already aware that it will cost him loved ones, friends and life itself.
Notice that Jesus does not attempt to rush people into making a decision to follow him. Instead, he warned them against hasty decisions. He wanted them to make sure they were willing to take the plunge and see it through. It is an extreme commitment that he is asking them to consider. Therefore they should think carefully before jumping in.
The two little parables that follow are not the words of a slick, religious salesman wanted quick converts.
First there is the man setting out to build an impressive tower. First sit down and calculate the cost. Can you afford it? Don’t start something you cannot finish.
Secondly the parable about a king going to war. First sit down and work out whether his army is large enough to win against the enemy. Don’t start something you cannot finish.
Becoming a disciple of this Messiah who has an absolute passion for God is a costly venture. Count the cost. The disciple must be ready to go the whole way with the Master.
It is unfortunate that these passages have been misused by numerous sects. They drag in converts in a flush of enthusiasm and then start warning them about the rift with families. Any hostility from the family is taught as proof of their true faith.
It is also unfortunate that some religious monastic orders have not only insisted on a total severance from loved ones but have also encouraged a literal hating of one’s body. There is nothing Christlike about despising and whipping one’s own body. This is not a saintly virtue but a sickness.
Jesus never engaged in artificial self punishment. The authentic cost of discipleship is that suffering that naturally results from being faithful to Christ. If you become a Christian and remain close to your loved ones, that’s wonderful! But if they should try and tear you away form God, then it may mean an unhappy severance.
In our society the lines between Christ and godlessness are not always clearly drawn. For us the danger is one of slippage; we slip almost imperceptible into losing our first loyalty. A whole host of little decisions or indecisions, and we find ourselves at a distance from Christ.
These small matters may not at the time seem worth making a stand on. But accumulatively they amount to a betrayal of the God who counts more than all else. The years go by and faith slides into sentimental religion, or what is as bad, into apathy.
Is there anything more pathetic than the soul that has spent its substance, not like the prodigal son ‘on riotous living’, but on the trivia of a thousand mini disloyalties? When this happens the early enthusiasm is replaced by a dull indifference towards things of the spirit.
Jesus will not have that! The extremist Christ still calls us to give everything. That’s what his exaggerated language is about. He felt so keenly about the importance of this that he used dramatic hyperbole - the language of ‘hating.”
Australian poet David Foster has these lines in his poem “The Fleeing Atlanta”:
Don’t give everything.
How many times have you heard them say
Don’t give everything.
You would think that they
Had given everything and lost, but hardly
A thing could be further from the truth.
They lost because they did not give everything.
“They lost because they did not give everything?”
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even hate his own life, they cannot be my disciple.
Acknowledgement – Bruce Prewer