Red: Understanding The Hard Sayings of Jesus - "Hate Your Parents"
This is the third installment of the sermon series "Red: Understanding the Hard Sayings of Jesus" As we've mentioned over the past couple of weeks, the title of this sermon series is drawn from the idea of "red letter editions" of the Bible, which contain all of the words of Jesus printed in red. Most of those words of Jesus are amazing, inspiring, thrilling and challenging.
But some of these words are absolutely confounding. We read them and they seem so completely out of character for Jesus, that we don't really know what to do with them. So, most of us actually gloss over these "hard" saying, choosing to ignore them or relegate them to the back of our personal canon--the things in the Bible that we read.
For example, the passage that we are going to be taking a look at today is one of the most confusing, maddening sayings of Jesus that I could find. It occurs in Luke chapter 14 when Jesus is talking about what it takes to truly follow him. As you read through that chapter it actually comes as a shock when you get to the verse we'll be reading in a moment.
It's that moment when you are reading along and you suddenly realize that Jesus just said that you have to hate your parent to follow him.
Yeah. He says that. I promise I'll read it to you in a minute.
So here's what we're going to be talking about today as we try to unravel this unbelievably shocking and potentially offensive saying of Jesus. I'm just goiing to share this, put this out there and then we're going to come back to it in a moment.
What I really believe that Jesus was trying to teach his followers in this entire passage is that IF GOD ISN'T FIRST, NOTHING ELSE IN YOUR LIFE WILL LAST.
Those of us of a certain age probably remember the Columbia House Record Club. The Columbia House Record Club, if you recall, was a complete and total scam. You could join the club and for $1.00 (or in some cases .01 cent) you could get 13 records or tapes.
To the right you can see an advertisement from a magazine for this glorious offer.
Seriously, you could stock up on all your favorites: Styx, Pablo Cruise, Steely Dan, Ted Nugent, Donna Fargo. Read through the list and be amazed.
I signed up for one of these when I was in high school, unbeknownst to my parents. I had the tapes sent to my friends house so I wouldn't be found out. Yes, I was a sneaky little so and so.
Of course, I read the fine print. That's what you were about to ask, right? In order to get this fabulous deal, you had to agree to pay for at least 3 more selections at full Club price over the next three years. And full Club price was pretty dang bad. It would probably be the equivalent now of $25 a tape.
So I got my 13 tapes, which was awesome, but I then realized that it was too expensive to buy any more tapes at such a high price. I didn't have that kind of scratch as a sophomore in high school with no job. So I started getting hate mail from Columbia House. My buddy talked to a friend of his, who knew a guy who said that all you had to do in order to get Columbia House to back off was to write them a letter saying that you were the parent of a kid who signed up for the club against your wishes, and to stop sending hate mail about buying things.
It didn't work.
There's a cost attached to most things that seem free.
So why is it that some Christians "sell" discipleship to Jesus like it's 13 for a penny? Have you ever wondered about that? You see them on TV or maybe even on a huge stages with lots of lights and a really nice suit making it seem like following Jesus will be one new car, new job or lottery win after another.
We know this about the way the world works. It's why we put deposits on trips, or on layaway items. It's why we make down payments on a car, or a house. Because we really need skin in the game in order to be all in, right? Dave Ramsey talks about this all of the time. People ask him why he charges $90 for his financial classes to help people get out of debt and he tells them. People without any skin in the game won't see any value in what you do.
This is why Jesus' words that we are about to read hit us so hard.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple.
So what did he mean? How do we take this? It really seems out of character for him doesn't it?
Well, to begin with, there's a little something going on here that is cultural and very ancient Near Eastern. In this particular case, Jesus' wordplay is what is known as Semitic Hyperbole. In other words, he exaggerated a contrast so it can be clearly recognized. The emotions, the feelings are very extreme here, and Jesus wants to make sure everyone understands just how intense it is to become his follower.
The word that is translated "hate" here is the Greek word miseo, which actualy does mean hate most of the time that it is used in the New Testament. But there is a bit of a nuance that is connected to this word, especially when seen through the lens of a Jewish speaker, which Jesus most certainly was.
Miseo was often used to indicate "loves less" rather than the full blown hatred that we might expect. Like I said, Jesus is exaggerating a comparison. The Old Testament has moments like this--Jacob, for example is said to have hated his wife Leah and loved his wife Rachel. This simply meant that he loved Leah less, obviously so because he had several children with her.
We also know that Jesus upholds the command to "honor your father and mother" elsewhere in his teaching, and goes to great lengths at the end of his life to ensure that his own mother is taken care of by his disciple John.
What Jesus is doing here is setting up some serious contrasts between the way the world views faithfulness and the way God views it. He is contrasting being religious with having a relationship. What he is challenging his followers with is a commitment to a person, not to a way of life. And in order to be in relationship with him, his disciples must undergo a complete change of priorities, values and pursuits.
And here's where we bring in the main point that I mentioned earlier: What Jesus wanted his followers to completely understand is that if God isn't first, nothing in your life will last.
The bottom line is this: We need new priorities if we are going to follow Jesus. His shocking words are absolutely meant to jolt us into this realization. What Jesus is teaching here is that everything in your life needs to be subordinate to God. You have to surrender your time, your career, your finances and yes, even your relationships.
A lot of folks start to check out at this point. "This is too much. You're sounding like a cult leader." Actually, being a cult leader would probably be pretty cool, but that's not at all what I am doing. It's a simple notion that has eternal implications. When God is first in your life, when you pursue a life following Jesus who shows us what God is like, when that's at the forefront of your mind and heart---then all of the other things like your career, finances, time all of that will fall into place.
The prosperity Gospel guys who tell you that all you need is to follow Jesus and then you will be able to tap into God's great gravy train are full of it. They've got it all backwards. It's not that God doesn't want his children to be happy, it's just that in order for his children to be happy they need to give up all the things that they think they might get when they follow God.
Pursuing God is the end unto itself. When God is first and foremost in your life all other things find their proper place, in their proper way in the proper amount.
When God is first in your life, your relationships are healthy and balanced. Because you know what you need to do to make them that way. You know what has to be surrendered, you know what boundaries you need to make, you feel peace in your heart toward difficult people instead of anger and malice. When God is your pursuit all of the challenging family dynamics that plague you melt away. You might have moments when you fall back into old patterns, but you don't stay there, and then you learn how to avoid them.
When God is first in your life, you won't have imbalanced relationships with others. They won't hold as much sway over your emotions, your thoughts, your worries and fears.
Listen nobody said this was going to be easy--including Jesus. There isn't any fine print attached to Jesus challenge to discipleship. It's right out there up front. If God isn't first, nothing else in your life will last.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the great heroes of the Christian faith. He was a German pastor who left Germany during the onset of the Nazi takeover. He went to seminary and was living in the US. He came to the realization that he could not hide from what was happening there, and that he had a duty to try to do something about stopping Hitler.
He was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, a move that he deemed permissible as a Christian because of its benefit to the greater good of the world. Bonhoeffer was captured, imprisoned and literally days before Germany surrendered he was executed.
As he awaited death in his cell, Bonhoeffer wrote as much as he could about the grace of God and the cost of discipleship. Grace, according to Bonhoeffer, was not cheap:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate... Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
What would it look like if we all got this--I mean all of us who say that we follow Jesus? What would it look like if we put God first?
Jesus once told his followers, "Don't lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moths eat at them and rust corrupts them. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven--treasures that will last." The way to embrace things that will last is by first embracing the everlasting One.
Because if God isn't first, nothing else in your life will last.