Do you love your children halfway? Do you love your parents occasionally? Do you love your friends every once in a while? Do you love your spouse when it suits you?
Don't get me wrong, there are of course days when we get angry at kids, spouses, parents, etc. There are days when they sadden us, irritate us, anger us, etc. But beyond those relatively minor nuisances, I think it is fair to say that there is always a stable undercurrent of love that does not go away.
Why would our relationship with God, with the divine be any different?
In today's Gospel passage (Luke 14:25-33), Jesus uses some language that ought to disturb us, principally because if we take him literally, he seems to be inciting us to hatred. More disturbingly, he seems to he inciting us to hatred towards our own parents and children.
My personal belief is that God, Christ and living a Christian lifestyle are simply incompatible with hatred. If you or your God hates anyone, you seriously need to reevaluate the validity of your religion and/or your spiritual focus. You may or may not be wrong, but in my limited experience, hatred has never been a constructive force, either for personal growth or collective progress. Just sayin'.
But Jesus uses the H-word, nonetheless. There are 2 things we must bear in mind when reading this passage.
1. The translation may be a little wonky. The word translated as "hate" in the original Greek is also the word for "forsake". Still makes for a grim message, but Jesus may be calling us to be prepared to forsake our family for doing the right thing.
Many of us have had to follow our hearts in terms of faith, marriage, career, lifestyle, politics, and sometimes our friends and family have been unable to follow along with us. But the alternative is NOT doing what we feel is right...is that really a viable option?
2. Jesus may simply be employing hyperbole. More than European and North American cultures, Middle Eastern language and storytelling is given to exaggeration and drastic language. Middle Eastern stories are dramatic and epic. Just read the Old Testament. Jesus may be informing his listeners in very vivid language what they must be prepared to do to follow him.
Following the path of goodness, whether it is religious, political or personal is fraught with sacrifice and judgement. Think about it: you can drift along with societal currents and keep your head down or fight for right and end up like Jesus, Lincoln, Gandhi, MLK Jr. and Kennedy. Standing up for justice puts you in harm's way, disturbingly.
A commitment to justice and the good is not a part-time, tepid affair, and Jesus in this Gospel passage is warning us that we may need to sacrifice a few things and a few people along the way. He is not calling us to discard those we love and who love us, but he is warning us that our faith journey is not always going to be baptisms, weddings and potlucks.
He calls us to be aware of this and to think ahead. Are we prepared to stop hanging AROUND the church and get IN the church?
To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.