Plymouth Congregational Church

God for All

Stop Following Jesus – Part 3

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What about us?

Okay, I remember sitting in church and becoming very confused during this part of Pastor Bill’s sermon. Was he really saying what I thought he was saying? But then it sounded as though Pastor began deflecting just when I was really becoming uncomfortable. The message, as always is important. Personally,  I’m not sure what to say, but I’ll let you, the reader figure it out. As always, especially on something so … even the words to describe escape me… important, perhaps, your views, your comments, your questions here are welcome.

Pastor Bill, “Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these eager followers of Jesus in the first century. What if I were the potential disciple being told to drop my nets? What if you were the man whom Jesus told not even say goodbye to his family? What if you were told to hate our families and give up everything we have in order to follow Jesus?”

Excuse me?! Really?! Well, think I am done about right here. I believed that God wanted us to love our neighbors, care for our family, friend our enemies. Am I wrong? Or is there more to the story? More to consider? Maybe here I should open my mind and look at the words a little more… just maybe.

Pastor Bill, “This is where we come face-to-face with a dangerous reality. We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We do have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate. And it is entirely possible that he will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. But we don’t want to believe it. We’re afraid of what it might mean for our lives. So we rationalize these passages away. Jesus wouldn’t really tell us not to bury our father or say goodbye to our family. Jesus didn’t literally mean to sell all we have and give it to the poor. What Jesus really meant was…

And this is where we need to pause, because we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving into the dangerous temptation to take Jesus of the Bible and twist them into a version of Jesus we are most comfortable with.

A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, the cause, after all, he loves us the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live our Christian spin on the American dream.

But do you and I realize what we are doing at this point? We are molding Jesus into our own image. He is beginning to look a lot like us, because, after all that is whom we are most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.

Okay, so Pastor lost me here. Is Pastor suggesting that Jesus really wants me to hate my children? Hate my parents? Hate those I care the most about in my human form – to forgo all my heart has given to for him? Well, I needed more information before I could really look at this, so I searched for other thoughts and more bible verses to other denounce or support. Here is some food for thought:

http://www.rationalchristianity.net/hate_parents.html

Exodus 20:12 – Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Luke 14:26 – If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.

Here is one person’s interpretation (http://www.rationalchristianity.net/contra5.html#52):

Many atheists interpret this verse literally. To them, it is clear that Jesus was instructing us to hate our families. But is it?

It is fairly basic rule in hermeneutics that a particular teaching should be interpreted in the light of general teaching, that is, in light of its context. So, does this hate-message fit into the overall context of Jesus’ teaching? Not really.

Elsewhere, Jesus responds to an inquiry about attaining eternal life. He replied, “honor your mother and father” [Matt. 19:19]. In fact, on another occasion Jesus censured those theologians who argued that people who had vowed to give God a sum of money which they later discovered could have been used to help thier parents in need were not free to divert the money from religious purposes to which it had been vowed. In His characteristic condemnation of human traditions, Jesus observed: “Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” [Matt. 15:6-7]

Now, how can you hate your parents, yet also honor them? These seem to be exclusive sentiments.

On the cross, Jesus tells John to take His mother as his own. Was he telling John to hate her? Then why did John take Mary into his home?

An interesting thing happens if you put together some of these teachings. If we are to hate our family, why must we love our enemies? And by hating our families, they become our enemies, but then we are supposed to love them!

No, I find this literalistic interpretation of Luke 14:26 to be plagued with problems and taken out of context.

So what sense are we to make of this teaching? Perhaps Jesus is simply employing hyperbole to emphasize an important point. Let’s return to the immediate context of this verse. In Luke 14:27, He notes that a disciple must be willing to carry his cross. In verses 28-29, he teaches from the example of building a tower and that one should count the costs before beginning. In verses 31-32, he uses an example of a king going to war to illustrate the same point. Then in verse 33, he explains that we must be willing to give up everything to be His disciple. In verses he alludes to salt that loses its saltiness, which is thrown out. And finally, he sums it all up by saying “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” [vs. 35].

Now throughout this whole preaching, Jesus uses symbolic parables and hyperbole to drive His points home. And what is the point? I think it is rather clear, that commitment to Jesus is primary and always comes first. Thus, if you are willing to put others before Christ and unwilling to follow through with your commitment, you may as well never commit in the first place.

It is well known that in Jewish idiom, hate could also mean ‘love less’. In fact, I think the same message taught in Luke 14:26 is taught in Matthew 10:37.

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”.

In this case Jesus is speaking to his disciples, while in Luke He was addressing the crowds. But the same theme is present in both and His teaching to the disciples clearly explains the hyperbole in Luke. 

I should also go back to that idiom. In the OT, the love-hate antithesis was used to distinguish between the intensity of one’s love, and not meant as a polarization of concepts. Perhaps the clearest example is in Gen. 29:30-31:

“So Jacob went to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban another seven years. When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb”.

Thus, Leah’s being hated or not loved really meant that she was loved less. In fact, in the poetry of the ancient Near East numerous terms were paired together. In such instances the meaning of these terms is far more dependent upon their idiomatic usage rather than their literal meaning in isolation.

Given that Jesus often teaches using symbolic parables and hyperbole, given the context of Luke’s passage, along with the context of other teachings of Jesus which certainly contradict a literal reading of Luke’s verse, and the use of the love-hate comparison in Hebrew idiom, all added to Matthews account of the same theme, a consistent picture comes out that Jesus was teaching that we should love our families less than He. His use of hyperbole is an effective way of getting attention and emphasizing his point at the same time. Commitment to Jesus comes first. By the way, this is another subtle implicit expression of Jesus as God, as elsewhere, he reminds us that we are to love “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” [Matt. 22:37].

Anyway, if Bob was to tell Sue that he loved her so much that “he’d walk a thousand miles without food and water just to be with her”, must Bob fulfill the literal sense of his statement for Sue to understand the depth of his love? If we insisted that hyperbole be taken literally, a very effective and deep method of communicating would be lost!

Okay, so here are my thoughts on what the bible is saying. If you put the story in context I believe that there is a period, like the apocalypse, where we must make a decision between believing in God and not believing. Here we have to choose and it may seem we hate our families, but it is not hate in the direct, human made description, but the decision that life in heaven and a belief in God is more important than our own families. We, of course, in our human nature, have compassion and desire for all those we love to come with us, but ultimately it is a personal decision.

Is your belief in God strong enough that you can hold to your convictions when the time comes and he tells you to give it all up just for him? For your life in His home?

I think, as Pastor Bill said, we can run into a lot of trouble when we overshadow the teachings of the bible with our interpretations. But how else can we understand what is being taught? It is all about interpretation because there is nobody so old to sit in front of us and tell us exactly what God meant when he created the bible and its teachings.

Are you as confused as I feel right now? I know what I think is right, I know what I think I am suppose to believe, but is it me or is it truth?

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Author: bkbites

Stay at home Mom of 3 boys, 1 goofy dog, 2 wickedly crazy cats, and a traveling husband. Ah, what can be better? It's a full life without a doubt.

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