Proper 18: This is Harder Than I Thought
By: Anne Moman Brock
This past spring a friend asked if I’d help co-facilitate a Bible study with her at church. During the eight-week study we spent a few weeks in the first testament, a few weeks in the second testament, then jumped back to the first for the conclusion. Although some in the group had been part of Bible studies in the past, for most of them this was new, especially the amounts of reading required each week (apparently none of them have participated in the year-long Disciples study!)
They didn’t like reading all the rules and consequences found in the early books of the Bible. They didn’t like seeing God as a judge or enforcer. They were eager to jump into the more loving, Jesus-focused texts.
I’ve been reading the Bible most of my life. I went to seminary. I was a youth minister for fourteen years. I mean, I did the year-long Disciples study, for goodness sake! I get what they were saying—the first testament can be challenging and hard to understand on the surface. It requires work to uncover the deeper meanings and historical contexts. I can see why they wanted to jump ahead to the warm and fuzzy Jesus stuff.
Except, Jesus isn’t really all that warm and fuzzy, is he? For the first time I realized, sure, the rules of the first testament are challenging and hard to follow, but in actuality, Jesus’ commands are more challenging and even harder to follow.
I pointed that out to the group. I shared with them that in the first testament, the rules are specific and laid out. Folks back then knew what they should and shouldn’t do. There really wasn’t much gray area. It was pretty cut and dry. However, when we fast forward to the Gospels things get a little trickier.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that mean exactly? Well, Jesus responds with a parable.
Or, take the text for this week: “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” (Lk. 14:26). Hyperbole much?
Clearly, Jesus was not calling his followers to hate their relatives. The familial bond was a strong foundation to the Hebrew people. However, Jesus was also aware that people could find any excuse in the book to get out of a commitment, including family.
Just before this passage in Luke, Jesus tells another story — one about a Great Banquet. When the table was ready, full of food and drink, those invited slowly started backing out.
“Oh, I completely forgot about that! I just bought a field and need to check it out. Next time?”
“You see, I just bought some new oxen and I need to go break them in. Rain check?”
“Oh, I totally would except that I just got married. You understand, don’t you?”
The host responds: “Fine, the invited guests don’t want to come? I bet there are others who will drop everything they’re doing to join me here. Invite them!”
After that parable Jesus goes right ahead and lets everyone know — there is a cost to this discipleship thing. It’s not easy. Sacrifices will be required of you.
So, no, I don’t think Jesus calls us to hate our families, but I do think he calls us to stop using them as an excuse to set our faith aside. I do think he calls us to consider whether we are willing to pay the costs required of us to be his follower.
Before you start building, figure out if you have the money and labor and willingness to see it through. Before you start a war, make sure you’ve got what it takes to win or consider if making peace might be a better option. Before you decide to follow me, make sure you know what’s being asked of you, make sure you’re clear on the expectations.
Following Jesus isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires something of us. Are we willing to take that risk? Taking the risk means putting God first. Taking the risk means following through with commitments even when a better offer comes through. Taking a risk means admonishing words of hate and actions of injustice. Taking a risk means standing up for the poor and vulnerable. Taking a risk means losing friends who disagree. Taking a risk means following the one who knowingly walked toward his death.
Are we willing? Are we willing to take such risks? Or will our newly acquired wealth and safety of home be more important than the invitation to join the host at the banquet table?
After fourteen years of youth ministry in the United Methodist Church, Anne Moman Brock is now in another form of ministry with Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, part of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She is a graduate of Christian Theological Seminary. Anne lives with her husband and two dogs—an 11-year-old husky and a 1-year-old chocolate lab—in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can find more of Anne’s musings on running, quilting, infertility, and writing at www.annebrock.com or on Instagram.