Do You Have What it Takes?

Episode 32 – September 10, 2019

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Jesus, his parents and siblings may need some family therapy. “Whoever does not hate father or mother…cannot follow me.” People who read Koine Greek are awesome. There is a cost to following this Jesus guy. Music by Kirsten Jones and Of Sea and Stone.

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Kirsten Jones  “Mad Mile”

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Of Sea and Stone – “Mother and Father”

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Reading No. 1

Luke 14:25-33  The cost of discipleship.
Read by Denise Bourcier, Sarah Miller and Wendy Miller in Toronto, Ontario

 

Reading No. 2

“A New Creed (1968)” from The United Church of Canada.

 

Reflection

It kind of feels like Jesus and his parents might be in need of some family therapy…because this…is a pretty jarring passage. 

“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.”  

There’s talk about leaving behind possessions and carrying crosses. I wonder that It might have felt like to be part of that crowd Jesus is addressing. Like, maybe that was the day I finally convinced one of my little brothers to join me in something Jesus-y. Maybe they came because I promised there’d be cookies afterwards. And then…Jesus starts going on about hating our siblings.  

Thanks, Jesus.  Thanks a lot.

Over the last couple episodes, Jesus has been kind of a Debbie Downer. We heard last week about how Jesus started giving some rather provocative seating suggestions — at a gathering where he was the guest! Now, we have all this talk of hating our families.

The first thing that is probably helpful to understand here is that this is an example of how poorly some Greek and Hebrew words turn out when they are translated into English.  I am not even close to an expert in Koine Greek. I even had to double check that I’m pronouncing “Koine” correctly. But I’m really, really glad there are folks out there who have spent a lot of time studying this stuff so that we have some added layers of information to work with in this passage.  What has been translated from Koine Greek as “Hate” doesn’t really accurately get across what Luke describes Jesus as saying in this passage. Perhaps something closer would be “to disfavour” or “to disregard” — because it highlights the shame and honour system out of which this dialogue emerges.  

The second thing that is helpful to keep in mind is that Luke is writing in approximately 85 CE or 90CE , around 50 years after Jesus’ death. The author of Luke never knew Jesus. The Jewish Temple had been destroyed 15-20 years earlier, and there are major divides between the Jewish community and Jewish Christ-followers. In the years after this book began circulating, the mixed Gentile and Jewish communities reading Luke were likely meeting in secret due to persecution by the Romans. By 150CE, Christians are accused of vile things, including cannibalism…particularly of babies and small children. But you can kind of understand where those rumours might start…with language about drinking the blood and eating the body of Christ…

I’m about to go on a sidetrack here:

When I was a young child growing up in a small country church, one of the women would bake a loaf of bread for every time we served communion. This bread was fantastic. This bread had all the kids lined up eager to get their piece for communion. We would take a BIG piece and only dip the bread as little as we possibly could get away with.  I’m not sure I ever really took communion with any reverence until I was in my teens — the bread was that good. Then, after the service, the kids would be given the leftover bread to share. We would tear that loaf of bread apart — the symbol of Jesus’ body and his excruciating sacrifice — screaming such obscene things such as:

“I got toe!”
“I’m eating his nose!”

“I’m eating his left ear!”

This is the kind of thing that would never go down in a Catholic or Anglican church.

One day, one of the elders saw these shenanigans taking place and told us we were all going to hell. All I could think was, “Well, at least hell has tasty bread.”

But the point is…it was dangerous to be a Christian, and even more dangerous to be public about it. The level and quality of danger shifted and morphed all the way into the fourth century, but it was not easy being a Christ-follower.  What’s more…while the vast number of early Christians were people from lower classes, there were some prominent and wealthy followers as well. The very beginning of Luke’s gospel is an address to a man named Theophilus, whom many scholars believe would have been the author’s patron.  Those wealthy Jesus followers would have been in community with slaves, with the poor…and they would have much to lose in status by associating themselves with this subversive movement.

That is what Luke (through Jesus) is talking about here.

Jesus is not saying that in order to follow him somebody must punch their mom or attack their siblings. He’s not saying those with possessions are not allowed to follow him. He’s not demanding that everybody gathered and listening go out and follow him to death.

But that may be the cost of following him. It is a warning, and Jesus is wanting the crowds to make an educated choice.  So he’s laying it all out for them. In a first and second century context, to follow Jesus likely meant the disruption of familial relationships.  It likely meant disinheritance. And, for some, it meant death, depending on the whims of the state. This is not magic Jesus who can fix everything on a whim. There is a real cost to Christian discipleship.  Everything along the spectrum of not being able to fully participate in Hellenistic culture, to possibly being the victim of violence…and not being able to retaliate.

***

My husband and I have set aside Friday nights as our date night.  We are both so busy during the week that we actually have to make this commitment to each other for some hangout time, otherwise, we could go weeks without having any sort of conversation more meaningful than “are you able to pick up bread on the way home from work?”  

This weekend, we decided to sit down and watch “The Family” – a new Netflix mini-series detailing the infiltration of a secretive Christian organization into the highest levels of politics in the United States and worldwide.  I’ve only made it through one episode but it was…chilling. And the passage Sarah, Denise and Wendy read for us today – it was cited over and over again. People turned their backs on their families in order to live within insular communities designed to brainwash them into service…into injecting what they perceived as Jesus’ mission into political discourse. But always behind the scenes, pulling the strings.  Always in secret. And watching it – it was one of those moments where I wondered how the people in the documentary, and my people – my family, and my friends…how we’re we all working from the same foundational book? How were we all reading Jesus’ words and coming away with such different calls to action.

Because when I read this, the passage, what I hear is Jesus (and Luke) warning his potential disciples that to follow him means one needs to be willing to possibly turn their back on a comfortable life; to stand alongside fellow followers who are slaves and living on the fringes of society.  To understand that embracing a faith that so deeply rejects Roman culture will leave them a target. It’s almost like Jesus is asking, “Do you have what it takes?” 

What I don’t hear is a call to infiltrate, or worse, to become the establishment — to endorse Empire, or corporate monopoly, or any number of things that prevent us from loving deeply, radically and authentically. 

I do hear a call to be prepared to stand up for the right thing, even if it costs us something. Maybe it’s being a whistleblower within a large company and speaking the truth costs somebody their livelihood.  

Maybe it’s saying no to the head of your political party and it costs you your cabinet position and place in your party.

Or maybe it’s sitting around the dinner table, listening to your dad asking, “Why don’t those lazy Indians just get over it and find a job already?”…and actually saying something back to him, calling him out.  

Or being in a work meeting and calling out the mansplaining.

Or sitting with a group saying that Christians, God, Jesus….it’s all stupid…and having the courage to speak up and say, “Actually…this whole Jesus thing is kind of important to me. I’d love to talk to you about it.” I’ve had to learn how to have those conversations and I still find it hard.

At its deepest and most authentic, being part of a Christian community is not a social club. It is a commitment to understanding…it’s not all about me. It’s not all about me.  It’s about following the example of a man who died brutally while challenging the status quo. It’s about constantly aligning with those society ignores. It’s about having faith…that there is something in this vast, Holy Mystery, that is worth living for.

Even when it’s hard.
Even when it’s painful.
Even when it costs.

Photo credit:  Ezra Jeffrey-Comeau



The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada

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