So… this gospel text, amirite? I mean every now and then we get a text just like this, and I think, well that sermon just preached itself. Seriously, it’s pretty straight forward, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you have to go and hate your parents, your siblings, and basically everything about life including yourself. And oh yeah, get rid of all your stuff while you’re at it, too.
Thanks be to God. Amen. I’m going to go call my mom and tell her what for.
Really though, when we gets texts like these, I admit I struggle. I wish I had taken this week off so it would be someone else’s problem. I look back at past sermons on this text for ideas, only to find that I actually did take the week off when this text showed up so it was someone else’s problem all those times. Not this year though, this year I have to come up with something myself.
So what to do? What to say when we get such a demanding and almost outlandish expectation put on us? What to think when we are thrown into this kind of crazy predicament to choose something we should do over something we really should do? What can we do when Jesus tells us to hate everything we love just to follow him?
Well, honestly, I think I’d rather just not follow him. I mean, if you’re telling me to choose between my family and some dude I’ve never met in person and only read about in a really old book, then it’s a no brainer. And giving me such an ultimatum like this, well that just cinches it, I choose my family, I choose my things, I choose my own life. I want to love, I want to be loved, I want to live!
And I probably won’t be alone in this, as I can’t imagine too many people actually lining up to give up everything and live in a way of loneliness and poverty. We are hardwired for love and relationship, for companionship and community, for life and living. It is who we are, it is how we are, and it is just what we are. In that we are relational beings, our lives revolve around love, and we would actually be declared as something wrong with us if we didn’t interact with other people at least every day. So for Jesus to ask us to deny all that, really, is just ludicrous. Actually, it wasn’t even an ask, it was more like a ransom demand, forcing us into submission. I mean, we all want to follow Jesus, don’t we? Isn’t that why we wake ourselves up early on a Sunday morning and make this trek all the way to church? But at the same time, we want to love our loved ones, that is why they’re our loved ones. We want our stuff, that is why we have that stuff still (most of it at least). And we very much want our lives, as we’d do anything to save them.
So what could Jesus be talking about here? What could he be asking us to do? How can he just tell us to give up everything we love, our community, and our very selves if all the other times he seems to be talking about how much we should love, how we should live in community, and how we have more value and worth than we ever could have imagined?
It all seems so circular, really.
Because on the one hand, Jesus tells us to love people. Then he goes in order to follow him, we need to hate people. And so when we follow him, we go and love people? What?
The thing is, I think Jesus is telling us that our love for people might be more of a philia love, that is, a love that we choose for those that we want to love. Maybe they’re nice to us, or help us with things, or just are really cool people. So we can all philia love people like that. But I think Jesus is talking more of an agape love, that is, a universal and charitable and unconditional love that we can have for all people, just as God does. This is the kind of love that Jesus asks Simon Peter if he has for Jesus three times at the end of the gospel of John, and three times Simon Peter answers with philia love.
See, I don’t think Jesus is asking us to literally hate our parents, although some of us might wish he was to validate our already existing feelings (I’m talking about my own kids here). But rather I think Jesus is saying that our love for our parents can be greater than it is. Our love for our friends can look like hate when compared to the love we can give them by God’s truth and grace. Our love even for ourselves will pale in comparison to the kind of love that God has for us. I mean, that is what Christ is all about, he came to us to show us how to love, how to relate, and how to live in community.
If we love our parents just in the philia way, then as soon as they do something we don’t like, it would be easy to just un-philia them. Or if we love our siblings not because they’re our siblings but because they’re nice to us, then as soon as they aren’t then we can easily cut them out of our lives. And really, we usually love our friends and such because we choose them for their personality traits and stuff, but once they start to get annoying then we delete them off our contacts and unfollow them.
But agape love is different. Agape love isn’t about how that other person makes you feel about yourself, but it is about recognising the value of the other person even when they annoy you. It’s about knowing that every person has worth and a meaningful contribution to life even when we might not see it. It’s about seeing how everyone is a somebody, because they are a child of God.
This is the life that really is life that we heard so much about in the past month or so. While we may be alive in that there is breath in our lungs and blood in our veins, the life that we could have would be much more like living, in that it would be full of God’s love, God’s truth, and God’s joy and peace.
See when we see our parents and others as God sees them, then we will love them differently. When we can see the world as God sees it, we will live in it differently. When we see ourselves as God sees us, full of value and worth and a beloved child, we will regard and treat ourselves differently. So Jesus isn’t telling us to not love anymore, but to learn to love as God does, learn to see what God sees, learn to pick up our crosses to live the life that truly is life by the grace, mercy, and love of God.
As we’re still in this season after Pentecost, let us see following Jesus not as a command or ultimatum, but as a gift in which we can learn to live and love as God would want us to. Thanks be to God. Amen.