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The Lectionary reading for this Sunday (Proper 18, Year C) was Luke 14:25-33.
“Jesus turned to them and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple…For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him…Or what king, going out to wage war aginst another king will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Growing up, I was always taught our family line. Had I been born Jewish or Muslim my name would have flowed thusly: Kenneth ibn/ben Holsey iben/ben McCoy iben/ben Web. As far back as I can remember, I recall being taught that our family line included two presidents, a state senator, Daniel Boone and through my mother’s line of the Lyon clan we’re related (though distantly) to the Queen Mother. My family defined who I was. The pride that was instilled gave me a standard that I thought I had to live up to. My own partents were more immediate defining characters of who I was growing up. Dad the Scoutmaster, so well known throughout the Council – so I became and Eagle Scout, a Lodge Chief, and Founder’s Award recipient. Mother was the artistic one – so I took to music, learning all I could and began college with 20 instruments under my fingers. Who hasn’t heard the saying, “We are a product of our rearing?” It’s so easy to be defined by who our family is.
But Jesus says to hate father and mother, partners of love and siblings of blood.
This strikes me as so out of character for the “love everyone” Jesus that I read of everywhere else in the Gospels. I can’t imagine Jesus saying something so harsh just for the sake of animosity. Afterall, I know some people that are just bitter for whatever reason and that hate all those around them. They scorn friends and treat strangers even more harshly. But somehow I don’t see Jesus being that kind of bitter person in his call to hate.
So what is his true intent in this harsh admonition? Why must we hate family, friends and even life itself?
An early example of Jesus with his own family perhaps gives us the best clue. Jesus is out preaching in the streets and causing the usual discomfort of the populice when his mother, siblings in tow, comes out to stop him. Jesus’ family is worried that he’s giving a bad name to the family. Put bluntly, they think he’s off his rocker and they’ve come to take him back inside before he embarassed the family anymore.
What does he do?
He scolds his mother and divorces himself from that defining character. He refuses to be set in the boudaries that would be defined for him by his family. He’s his own person, has his own mission no matter how crazy it may seem and has no place in that mission for boundaries.
So what Jesus is telling us to do is to get rid of those things that define you so arbitrarily. Yes, honor your father and mother, honor those you love, but don’t let yourself be confined by their boundaries. Remember, Jesus scolds is mother her, but makes sure she’s cared for as he hangs on the cross. For all his teachings, Jesus did nothing but break down boundaries. From the minute we define our limits, set our boundaires, we’ve lessened ourselves and our potential connection to others in the presence of God.
For instance, a child grows up in Palestine, taught how his family faught for this cause for generations, how their people have been wronged, and how he has been in the same way. He will know from a very early age the burden of vengance that he has inherited because of his family. So he grows up hating the Jews on the other side of some arbitrary boundary and lives a life hating people he may never meet. And when he walks down the street one day, he goes out of his way to avoid the man with long side curls and black broad rimmed hat. And when he does, he misses the chance to meet someone who could say hello, offer a kind and friendly word, and perhaps, just maybe, make his life better for knowing another child of God.
Or maybe it’s a Jew that’s raised to fear and hate those Muslims on the other side of that arbitrary line and never reaches out a hand to start healing the wound that seperates them.
Or maybe it’s a young Protestant girl that’s raised in a family that’s been Protestant for generations, and is taught from such an early age that those Catholics over there are heathens and evil people. By the age of 6 she’ll understand in such simple terms as only a child can grasp that those Catholics (that group of people she’s never actually met) have always persecuted their family and now that they’re here in this country where people are at last free to believe in what they want it’s her duty as a member of this family to return that scorn to the Catholics that they had always received.
Or maybe it’s a young man being taught now by his father that those “towel-heads” should just be wiped out because that’s what God wants.
Or maybe it’s a whole parish being taught that same prejudice by their Pastor.
Or maybe it’s a whole denomination being taught by it’s leaders that, because this is what their families have always believed, it’s ok to harrass and even slaughter others in their own neighborhood backyard just because of their sexuality.
Or maybe it’s the woman surrounded by her upper middle class life that looks away from the homeless man on the street because a person of her position doesn’t have to help someone like that? Doesn’t her car tell everyone that’s she’s not someone to be bothered by some vagrant’s problems?
So let us ask ourselves, just how many families do we have that are defining us? How many boundaires have we set in stone around us and accept so blindly? What material lives have we surrounded ourselves with to define and tell people who we are? And how many of those boundaries is Jesus constantly telling – begging us – crying for us – no, demanding of us that we break through?!
My brothers and sisters, we say we want to be Christian, but we aren’t willing to acknowledge what that really means. We aren’t willing to honestly accept what that costs. We want to say we “love” everyone, but not take the responsibilty of doing so. How many of us started building this tower and have run out of resources? How many “Christians” have started a war “for God” with ten thousand soldiers of prejudice only to find that they can’t stand against twenty thousand soldiers of God’s Love, and now are so entrenched that they have lost the chance to make any kind of Peace?
My brothers and sisters, we are given one very simple command: Love one another as God loves you. I think it’s time that we looked at what that really will entail and finally take up the challenge with a bit more than just fervent lip-service.
While reading excerpts from the Persian Sufi poet Hafiz last night at our Order’s meeting, this poem began to form in my mind during our space of silence towards the end:
God laughs at me.
Lord knows, he laughs at me a lot.
Have you ever watched an ant
Wander about scattered and confused
Searching for the scent of a trail he can only hope is there?
God lifts this ant up upon His finger
To get a closer look.
In a flash, God becomes a drop of honey
And this ant is drawn intrinsictly
To that Divine Nectar
And discovers the pure sweetness
Of His existence.