Sermon Commentary for Sunday, September 4, 2022
Luke 14:25-33 Commentary
If this scene seems familiar, it is because it is the second time this summer that we have encountered this scene: Jesus among a crowd on the road to Jerusalem, questioning people’s abilities and willingness to be truly committed to discipleship. In fact, throughout our lectionary passages, we have listened in as Jesus specifically tells would-be disciples that they must be ready to leave their families and their possessions in order to follow him. Jesus has talked about how he will be the cause for division among family members and told parables about what it means to be rich towards God instead of rich on earth. Christ continues to be very clear about the importance of attentioned discipleship.
Yet, as we are apt to do, we try to find ways to soften Jesus’ rhetoric. In this case, there is historic, cultural precedence for doing so. At that time, telling someone to hate something or someone was often a Semitic idiom for telling someone to love something less than they currently did. Maybe by using hyperbole you could help someone see their imbalance, and by turning them just a little towards hate, you’d help them find appropriate attachment. The BDAG (biblical Greek dictionary) uses this sense of the word for one of the definitions of “hate,” citing our passage as its example. This would mean that Jesus is saying is that his disciples need to be able “to disregard” or be “disinclined to”— i.e., do not favour—their own family, life, and things.
This definition and explanation definitely makes sense and fits the way of attentioned discipleship. This definition also allows us to breathe a sigh of relief that Jesus isn’t telling us that we have to walk away from our loved ones and break all ties for his sake. What God is actually saying here is that we have to take serious consideration of the people and things that have the most influence and control over the shape of our lives.
In a roundabout way, Jesus is describing idols: the things we love, serve, and allow to weigh heavily on our decisions under the guise of the “needs of our circumstances.”
I want to be very careful and clear here. I do not mean that I think Jesus is condoning abandoning one’s familial responsibilities for the sake of ministry. Nor am I saying that Jesus is teaching that we serve our family first, then our churches/ministries. This is too simple a reduction, a shortcut away from what Jesus is really getting at with his description of the cost of discipleship.
In both of the stories Jesus shares, he gives a picture of what he wants people to do: he wants them to sit down- STOP!, take stock- BE HONEST!, reflect- THINK AND PRAY! about the shape of their life and what’s possible with it, given all of its attachments and commitments. Not doing so is disastrous—for ourselves and others.
It will come at the personal cost of ridicule and taunts of hypocrisy. And like the king’s decision to either put his soldiers in harm’s way or not, our egos and naivety have the distinction of causing great harm on those we love the most. Jesus isn’t telling us to be uncaring and careless towards those closest to us, far from it. He’s underscoring that without reflection about the direction, purpose, orientation, and attachments in our lives, i.e., spiritual and emotional maturity, the unintended consequences are real.
And yet, the consequences for choosing the right posture, differentiation, and purpose in life is also quite difficult to follow through on. And, they will also prove to be challenging for ourselves and our loved ones. Jesus lays it out starkly here:
- We will have to love good things less—not giving special treatment to our families and friends, but willing to see our family as a much larger community.
- We will face very hard things and the “world” (which can include our families and our churches) will seek to punish us for not playing by its rules—we will carry the cross.
- We will have to see our own transformation through, facing our own sin and shame and repenting—otherwise we will be ridiculed as hypocrites who committed to something we didn’t follow to the end.
- We will have to reject the model of life shaped by the idols of our time—family, possessions, acceptability by principalities and powers.
The story of the king puts it in stark view: the two armies are already headed towards one another and a choice of what to do must be made. Such choices will have to continue to be made. We will need to commit ourselves to a reflective life of prayer and discernment with God, seeking the Holy Spirit to help us consider the cost and keep us attentioned in our discipleship.
Sometimes, hating mother and father will be metaphorical: turning against the understanding of the past generation out of conviction that a new wineskin moment has come. Sometimes it will be a literal disobedience and refusal to play the role that your family has set before you. Sometimes, hating your possessions will literally mean selling it all for the benefit of common good, while other times it will mean changing your attitude about what you have, deserve and/or need. Hating your life might mean making some drastic life-changes because you realize how unhappy you are and know you need a change. It might also mean that God humbles you and you learn the hard way to live your life for God and not yourself.
This list could go on and on. This is why Jesus’ picture of stopping to sit and think about what you’re up to is such a simple, yet important one. Discipleship is not something that will happen while we are on autopilot and under the control of idols; nor is it something that will come naturally—at first. The cost and consequences will be high, but we also know that the “payoff” is the best that ever was. God’s freedom. Participating in the glory and love of Christ. Knowing that “something more” that is found in a life lived in step with and steeped by the Holy Spirit.
There’s been some debate as to whether or not we should read Jesus’ call to hate our family as an idiom or not. After all, our tendency to “soften” the hard sayings may be the same sort of compromise Jesus is speaking against in this passage—an excuse for why we don’t need to be fully obedient. Jesus used the same word in Luke 6.22: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” Could this beatitude be a picture of how people respond when you rightly order your love as a disciple of Jesus?
It’s perhaps worth nothing that Jesus isn’t making imperatives (the verbs are not commands), but describing reality. And who would know this reality best, other than the Lord himself, who suffered and knows every temptation and trial we might face?
The worry about being ridiculed or mocked for not weighing your resources doesn’t seem—at least to me—to be as big of a deal in our culture today. There’s always bankruptcy, moving to a new city, divorce… Countries start wars that become quagmires and citizens refuse to follow health mandates to keep viruses from spreading; deliberative bodies like Congress or church synods decide things without thinking through how they will be enforced, enacted, or what the real impact will be. Is it the sitting down and reflecting that’s the problem? Is it the accurate picture of self and one’s resources that’s missing? Is it a lack of accountability within communities? Is it a lack of patience to do the slow work of discernment?
Where I grew up, a successful businessman decided to build a very large house—almost the same size as the Taj Mahal (25,000 square feet). It was on the outskirt of town, but in an area with a small subdivision, a retirement community, and my church’s building. The businessman was a Christian and wanted the house to be a place for missionaries to come for rest. The neighbours complained about the house from the very beginning, feeling as though their nice houses would be devalued by the palace going up in their backyard—not to mention their loss of privacy from having a multi-story building go up among ranch houses. But during construction, a freak accident happened at one of the businessman’s businesses and he lost upwards of $3 million in assets. The house never got past a half-finished frame; eventually it was the victim of arson. A new subdivision has replaced it. I’m not even sure if the locals remember it like I do: their complaint and ridicule wasn’t that the man hadn’t planned well enough, it was that his plan was a nuisance to them.
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