13 Pentecost, Proper 18 – September 4, 2022
I don’t know about you, but I see today’s reading as quite challenging. Hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even life itself. What’s that about?
Here is another case in which context is important. The phrase “to hate” is a Semitic expression which means “to turn away from, to detach oneself from.” So, it shouldn’t be taken literally here. It does not intend to convey the emotion that we experience in the expression, “I hate you.”
In Jewish traditions, “hate” is used regularly of the animosity between actual enemies, yes, absolutely. But it is also used in binary wisdom aphorisms. What are aphorisms? Well, aphorisms are often used to teach a lesson while speaking in plain terms. For example, “A bad penny always turns up” is an aphorism for the fact that bad people or things are bound to turn up in life. We just have to deal with them when they do.
So, the Jewish traditions used “love” and “hate” as mutually exclusive choices in discernment: the wicked are said to hate discipline, justice, and knowledge, while the righteous hate wickedness, falsehood, and gossip.
Which means that Luke is not advocating intense hostility toward our family and our life, but is actually promoting the steadfast refusal to allow something less valuable to displace something more valuable. The choice to follow Jesus and put the Kingdom of God first in our lives is what has the most value.
The examples of the builder and the king call us to size up the whole situation when contemplating discipleship. Following Jesus becomes not a calculation but a re-orientation, a turning toward the cross and away from the world, walking a new path—or, as the hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” puts it, “the world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back.”
The playwright Thornton Wilder once imagined that life in God’s care is like a beautiful tapestry. When viewed from the pattern side, the “correct” side, the tapestry has an intricate and magnificent design. The problem is that in our everyday lives, we cannot see the pattern. We live our lives on the reverse side of the tapestry, so what we see is only broken threads and knots. It’s only here and there, in worship and in moments of insight, that we glimpse what we will ultimately see in the full light, the great design of God’s tapestry, the full plot of God’s story.
God is able to take our mess and constantly, creatively, breathe it into God’s good purposes. We grow in the grace and love of God, little by little, and, as we experience God’s grace and love, we give more and more of ourselves in return – a thank offering, if you will, for what we’ve received.
Jesus is inviting us to choose life. Abundant life. Kingdom life. Real life. Yes, sometimes the choices in front of us are incredibly ambiguous, which is why Jesus makes his own sacrifice. To assure us of God’s love and forgiveness, so that whether we are confused, overwhelmed, unclear, or just choose badly, the promise of life is always in front of us. This promise of God’s unconditional love frees us to choose life.
Because that’s what it means to follow Jesus. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). The way of discipleship is the way of life, real life, life that does not deny the reality of death but instead overcomes it through the power of resurrection. And that is good news.
From Psalm 139: “Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways.”
Jesus is inviting us to a full-bodied Christian faith that stands over and against all those things that are often presented to us as life by the culture. Jesus invites us, to the kind of abundant life that is discovered only as you give yourself away. The kingdom of God Jesus proclaims is about life and love. And just as love is one thing that only grows when it’s given away, so also is genuine and abundant life.