In our reading this week, Luke 14:25-33, we are confronted by the most disturbing and misunderstood injunctions of Jesus: To follow you must “hate” family and even life itself, that you can only follow if you take up your cross, and finally, you can only be a follower if you sell all your possessions.
William Loader writes that the injunction to “hate” is deeply offensive to our most important values, the love commandment forbidding hate. He reminds us that Matthew’s version softens the offence by replacing ‘hate’ with ‘love less’.
These sayings appear to contradict the Jesus of compassion. Yet Loader alerts us to something important: “It is shocking and doubtless intended to be shocking.” Certainly there is masterful hyperbole, grotesque exaggeration being expressed! Why?
Jesus is confronting complex issues that can only be addressed by jolting all listeners with claps of thunder that direct a re-examination of individual, family, church community life.
And what outcome does Jesus seek? In Paul’s words this is all about being “free to live freedom”, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). Free to discover and engage in God’s new emerging life within the world as individuals, families and communities that free us to journey to be justice-focussed, compassionate holistic beings always seeking to share power and keep growing in freedom, in gender, race, class, ethnicity and so on.
Jesus directs his clap of thunder at the power of family.
As William Loader points out:
That object is family power. Family power and control which will not release from its womb, but has become a cage, a prison, but more often a comfortable and secure place in which to turn aside from one’s potential and the world’s challenge. The voice of Jesus articulates human need – one’s own and that of others – and calls people to discipleship. Discipleship means a relationship of learning and growth with Jesus as the teacher and God as God, not family.
… People today can recite a range of experiences about family demonics. Examples: blatant abuse [in families]. Sometimes the destructiveness is more ‘innocent’: [‘good’] families can suppress self-exploration and generation of self-worth [that remain even after we leave our family as] internalised, [and] continue to dictate terms and only with careful therapy can the soul find release. Sometimes it … manifests itself in closed minds, eyes trained not to see, ears not to hear, lives self-preoccupied with often a kind of private goodness but no heart for compassion and justice in the world. Sometimes family has simply been one player in a social conspiracy which has written a gendered script which waits to be torn up. Dethroning such gods brings trauma for all concerned; it means giving up what has been ‘one’s own life’ in order to find oneself (and find others).
… “Hating” family and “denying” self are closely related. Ultimately Jesus’ appeal is not to ignore people’s interest but to appeal to them. You want real profit? You want real life? Then follow me. This means abandoning those constructions of yourself which pit you against others to your advantage. Applied to family, this equally demands abandoning family constructions which are destructive and unhealthy and embracing constructions of oneself and one’s family which affirm life and hope and love.
Rev Vladimir Korotkov