Confronted by “Hate”

Luke 14:25-33

Did you hear my last sermon?  If so, then you heard me begin with words that went something like this: “I have a confession to make.  I don’t like today’s Gospel passage.”

Do you remember?  It was that passage where Jesus says that five people from the same household will be divided; mother and daughter will be divided, father and son will be divided, and so on.  Then he says, “I have not come to bring peace, but division!”  And I confessed that I didn’t like it.  What was I, a curate—which, by the way, means new: I’m still relatively new at this whole preaching bit—what was I supposed to do with this?  Jesus’s overall mission was and is radical love, not division!

Anyway, now—the next Sunday I’m scheduled to preach—I find these words of Jesus: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

And I think, “Who’s in charge of the preaching schedule anyway?”  Last week’s Gospel was all about doing good and showing hospitality to those who are less fortunate.  Why wasn’t I assigned that text?  Or next Sunday’s Gospel shows Christ sharing a meal with sinners.  Now that’s something I can sink my teeth into.  But this!  Hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself?  Just what are you asking me to do here, Jesus?

If anything, this mental wrestling match shows not that my fellow clergy are somehow conspiring against me, pawning off the difficult Gospel passages on the curate to see what he does with them; rather, it shows that difficult passages in the Gospel are somewhat commonplace.  Indeed, on any given Sunday, we might find ourselves confronted by something unpalatable in the Gospel, a sort of spiritual meal difficult to swallow, concerning our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

What do we do with such passages?  What do we do with this passage?

A good place to start is with the term that causes us difficulty in the first place.  The word hate here, for instance, is µισεĩ in the Greek; it shows up in the English language in words like misogynist, woman-hater.  But, like in English, it has a broad range of meanings.  A mother who said she loved chocolate cake at yesterday’s birthday party says she hates it today as she scrubs a stain out of her daughter’s sundress.  And that’s a different use of the word than when someone says, “I hate racism.”  This ambiguity is the same in Greek.

The word shows up (Mt. 5:43-44) when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

But—more to our point, I believe—the word also shows up when Jesus says (Lk. 16:13), “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”

I believe this usage of the word is more to our point because it juxtaposes two things, God and wealth, that are necessary and good when considered by themselves.  To this list of necessary and good things we could add family—wife, children, brothers, sisters—possessions, even life itself.  But the point is that one will take priority over all the others.  For those who call themselves Christians, Jesus Christ must be this top priority.

So we started with a troublesome term.  But we continue to gain understanding when we look at the passage’s larger context.

Today’s Gospel has a parallelism.  Did you catch it?  It begins: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  Then it ends with these similar words: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

So Jesus starts his teaching with, “Here’s what it means to be my disciple: hate father and mother” and so on.  And then he ends it with, “Here’s what you need to do to become my disciple: give up all you have.”  It begins and ends the same way.  But in between he starts talking about something else—about carrying a cross and building a tower and fighting a war.

This parallelism really serves as a frame to a bigger, more important picture.  Jesus is telling the crowd that they must count the cost of what it really means to follow him.  There is a cost to being a Christian.  That’s his main point.  Someone desiring to build a tower wouldn’t want to abandon the project halfway because he’s run out of money.  A military commander wouldn’t send an army to fight a hopeless war without first attempting a parley.  Neither should someone follow Christ with unrealistic hopes.

Putting it all together, what this passage is saying is that keeping Christ as top priority requires a sort of personal detachment.

Consider a couple of scenarios.

First, someone insults you personally because you’re a Christian.  Your initial gut reaction is to one-up this person, to insult him more deeply than he insulted you.  You might even be tempted to punch him in the nose.  You feel your blood beginning to boil, heat rising to the top of your head.  But, somehow, by the grace of God really, you keep yourself together for the time being.  Still, you want to get that guy back, say something mean, do something nasty, something to retaliate.  The nerve!  Then Christ convicts you.  You talk it over with other people, pray it through, and in the end you decide to overlook the offense entirely.  Christ’s mission of radical love, you decide, is far greater than a petty personal insult.

Second, you’ve discovered widespread misconduct among your colleagues, and you’re told by your boss just to go along with it or you’ll lose your job.  It’s not a personal insult this time.  No blood boiling, no heat rising.  Still, it’s dishonest and you know it.  But your paycheck, indeed your family’s livelihood, depends on this job.  What do you do?  Are you willing to part with your paycheck for the sake of Christ?  In the end you decide to confront the situation, risking the loss of your job but bringing a somewhat large injustice to light.

Both scenarios—one requiring you to overlook an offense and the other requiring a confrontation—demand something of a personal detachment from you.  In the first, you need to separate yourself from the heat of the moment.  Even your own life, your own dignity, takes second-place to Christ.  In the second scenario, personal detachment comes in the form of things: you have to separate your possessions, your family, and your livelihood from Christ’s mission.

In themselves, then, things are good.  Relationships are good.  But let them never trump Christ and his mission.

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