Pentecost – 23 (c)
So, here we have the story of Jesus, surrounded by people, a large – apparently enthusiastic crowd. The people in his day apparently recognized something about him that they really resonated with them and thought was great, and they apparently wanted to follow him. That’s what people did back then—they became followers—they wanted to say “yes” to Jesus. They want to go with him, stay with him, be with him; they want to be his disciples.
There is much written in the Gospels and elsewhere having to do with this notion of Christian discipleship—the act of following and learning from Jesus Christ. And there is a lot at stake within the notion: The promise of peace in our hearts and peace in our homes comes through our discipleship (Jesus said, “Come to me all who are burdened and I will give you rest…”). The feeling of being close to or familiar with God—the Creator—who Jesus calls “Father”—this too comes from our discipleship (our following and learning from Jesus Christ); and ultimately, as we in the church has come to speak over the centuries…even our very salvation, our hope of eternal life is attached to our discipleship of this one man, Jesus Christ.
And so, with all of this at stake, there was this large crowd gathered around Jesus…in fact, I would argue, they are gathered still. I think this same large crowd exists still in churches and congregations around the world. Perhaps the people gathered around—the people wanting to follow him—perhaps they are us—gathered today in this congregation. For, aren’t we people who have gathered together in order that we might find renewed strength for our lives, direction, guidance…or security in a world that seems to be filled with such endless chaos and chance.
And wouldn’t that peace that is so evident in the scripture—that blessed assurance found in the story of the savior, Jesus Christ…in the midst of an uncertain world. Isn’t it what many have come sought?
“Yes, Jesus, we want to be with you.” Yes Jesus we want to be your disciples. Let us walk with you. Give to us your salvation.
It is at this point in the story where Jesus responds to the enthusiastic crowd, and breaks our hearts—
“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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…”
What in the world is this about?
First, as the preacher, this text requires some obvious attention. First, the translation issue—the word “hate.” I hate this translation, because it so poorly fits our English understanding of the word hate. To say “I hate you,” in English, has a completely different connotation than the Greek phrase. Jesus, who consistently tells us to love our neighbors and care for each other is not suddenly changing his mind in order to confuse us.
The lexicon gives this as the definition of the Greek word misew: to be disinclined to, disfavor, or disregard in contrast to preferential treatment.
Or as Lutheran preacher Fred Craddock writes:
There is nothing of the emotion we experience in the expression “I hate you.” To hate is a Semetic expression meaning to turn away from, or to detach oneself from…What is demanded of disciples, is that in the network of many loyalties in which all of us live, the claim of Christ and the gospel not only takes precedence but, in fact, redefines the others. This can and will necessarily involve some detaching, some turning away.
In other words, in order to follow one master and Lord, we need to stop following the other people and things that are clamoring for our attention.
You see what is happening here? Jesus is forcing our hand. He is asking us to make up our mind “who is our God going to be?”
Do we, with our life, attach ultimate meaning and give ourselves to the service solely to things that will die (which is everything within creation) or do we give glory and service to something that lives within and beyond this creation (namely, God—the One who gave us all of these things)?
When Jesus says pick up and carry your cross, he isn’t talking about jewelry or an ornament to hang on the wall. A cross was literally a device of death…But in order to pick up your cross, you must be able to part with your life.
In 1974, a man by the name of Earnest Becker wrote a book called The Denial of Death. In it he discussed the lengths that humans go (pretty much across the board) to deny the reality of our mortality. He discusses what he calls, “Immortality projects”: things that we do to ignore or flat out deny the reality that we will each die. Trying to create our own little legacies.
And so we, who are meant to serve God, instead serve things that in the grand scheme of things really don’t make any difference at all, but wind up being the prized possessions of sinful people.
This is precisely what Jesus was getting at long before Earnest Becker ever wrote his book. The ultimate question…the ultimate decision of Christian discipleship--Are you willing to let go of the things God has given you (including the people God has given you) so that you can hold on to God? And when you hold on to God, this is when you begin to understand what to do with the things he has given you.
What it comes down to friends, as surprising (or as obvious) as this may sound…
God wants to be…our God.
God wants to be adored, honored, respected and acknowledged for what God is.
But more than that. It’s more than God wanting. This is also about God Giving. God is great and gives us great things, and gives us a great calling. Look what Jesus compares the undertaking of being a disciple to: building a house, waging a war.
Jesus is not being trite. When he talks about hating or turning away from the things we love most. This man who spoke mostly of love, he is outlining or pointing out the great and ongoing challenge or struggle—the things that are most likely to challenge or compete for our allegiance to God are the people and things God has given us.
Brothers and sisters, this one Jesus Christ, loved the world and people and life perfectly and purely, precisely because he was able to let go of it when it mattered. And this same one has the power to help us detach from our idols and reattach to the world with Christ in the middle.
Joshua W. Magyar,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270