If you’re walking through a forest of evergreen trees and you happen upon a giant maple, does that make it a deciduous forest? But you have to wonder ‘why is it there? What does it mean?’ Maybe the wind randomly blew a seedling there and up it sprouted. Or it could have been planted in that spot for some sort of specific purpose. The moral of the story is that you can’t simply dismiss something anomalous when you find it – you have to do a little work to make sense of it – and you have to be prepared to discover that it’s possible there is no sense.
In the case of Jesus telling us to “hate” our families though, there is a profound message to be heard. We just have to work for it! In this case the culprit is our modern ears.
I’d like you to think about this whenever you come across a verse of scripture like this. Does it sound like Jesus to you? Does it sound like something that the Holy Mystery we call God is really all about? If not, then it means one of a few possibilities:
Maybe it was added in by someone with an axe to grind.
Maybe it was added in by someone who wished Jesus had said it.
Maybe he actually said it but the turn of phrase meant something different in their time.
Or maybe he actually said it but the translation is misleading.
“Hate” doesn’t mean what you think it means here.
The Greek word is miseo and it actually connotes elevating one thing of value over another thing. Our modern language misinterprets this. Jesus does not say we should hate our families. That’s ridiculous. What he’s referring to is a matter of priorities. It’s an extension of his teaching that you can’t serve two masters at the same time.
I suspect most people would name family as their first priority. In some ways that may be true, and certainly if we had to make choices about our own lives or the lives of our family members we’d probably choose our family first out of love for them. But that’s not the kind of choosing this passage is about.
What Jesus is talking about is on a much more fundamental level.
What will be your absolute, fundamental, foundational, building block of life?
What will command your first thought and therefore colour all your other thoughts?
What will be the lens through which you view the world?
If you choose family first then everything else you engage in is filtered through that lens. “It’s us against the world, baby!” Same if you put possessions in the first or primary place. Or success. Or power. Or self-improvement.
The point Jesus is making is that God is the fundamental truth of the universe, so if you don’t put God, or Spirituality, or faith in the first place you will forever be out of tune with the universe, and those things you so desperately desire – possessions, power, success, and even family – will always feel unfulfilled.
Jesus doesn’t actually mean for you to hate your family, or your life, or your possessions. He simply says to choose God first. If you allow God (or Spirit) to be your fundamental, primary lens then you see the whole world and everything and everyone in it with entirely different eyes. It’s a challenging teaching for us, even with the “hate” language properly understood.
Jesus is speaking to a large crowd at this point, so you might say that this is something of a recruiting opportunity for him. Hmm. How do you like this for a church growth slogan? “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.”
Can you imagine the reaction to such a statement – especially among those not willing to take the time to find out what this maple tree in the middle of nowhere means? They’d be stampeding for the doors! “What is this guy, nuts? Hate my family? Hate my life? Gimmie a break. I’m outta here!”
Remember, why were the crowds there in the first place? Because they’d heard rumours about this Jesus guy who comes along and spellbinds people with his insight into the Sacred Presence that surrounds and enfolds us, and he restores broken and disconnected people to wholeness, and he seems to thumb his nose at some of the typical ways of being spiritual and embraces a much more experiential way of being.
It’s very attractive.
The crowd is looking for the big show.
The crowd is looking for a miracle man.
The crowd is looking for the magic wand and the special pill that can cure what ails them.
And what does Jesus give them? – A great big giant wet blanket dose of truth. Nobody who’s looking for a quick fix is going to stick around to hear the next thing this whack-job has to say. And that suits Jesus just fine. The last thing Jesus needs is hangers-on who want the perqs of membership without bothering to read the fine print.
Anyone who has ever signed on the bottom line of anything knows all about the fine print. You ignore it at your peril. Well, God doesn’t work that way. There’s no bait and switch when it comes to real spirituality. We may try to ignore it, or dismiss it, but Jesus puts it right up front and centre. Here it is. Here’s the fine print of faith:
Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Now, some people see this verse and immediately claim that Jesus is foreshadowing his own upcoming death and that this is a sign that he is divine and all-seeing. And others will look at it and claim that it’s a verse inserted by someone much later trying to make Jesus seem larger than life. I’m not going to tell you what to think, but I have another possibility for you to consider.
Crucifixion was a harsh reality in their time. It was no secret. The Romans purposely crucified enemies of the state in very public places as a show of power and authority. The cross was not a religious symbol, of course, but it was a universally understood symbol of death.
So what if Jesus wasn’t talking about his own death, per se, but simply used the ubiquitous cross as a metaphor for his teaching? What if he was saying that the key to being his disciple, to following the path that he was journeying, to walk his Way, was to understand that it involved a kind of “dying” to a former way of being in order to enjoy and embrace a new way of being?
I learned a fancy new word for this in my latest course this summer. The word is cruciformity. It basically means that the life of faith is cruciform, that is, it’s shaped in the form of a cross – meaning that it involves living out this pattern of dying and rising. The apostle Paul’s writings have all sorts of invitations to cruciformity. That’s why people sometimes think he’s so gloomy.
Romans 6:4 and 6 “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life… We know that our old self was crucified with him.”
Galatians 2:19-20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
I hope you can see that none of this is about heaven or the afterlife, it’s all about the here and now – being transformed through dying and rising for new life here and now. That’s what I think Jesus means. And that’s why it makes sense that Jesus says you can’t be his disciple if you don’t practice cruciformity – if you don’t ‘take up your cross’. If the new life and new Way that Jesus is talking about requires dying to your old way then the cross (in his time) is the perfect metaphor.
I love the insights and teaching of Richard Rohr, but I think he’s chosen some unfortunate language to talk about cruciformity. He talks about dying to your False Self so that your True Self can emerge. I’d prefer it if he’d use the words Shallow and Deep.
I don’t think the persona we live out, or the general way that we engage the world is false (which carries connotations of being wrong or evil), I just think we tend to be shallow, while God calls us to the depths of shalom, and harmony, and blessing. We need our Shallow Self to survive and interact with much of the world, but we also need to nurture our Deep Self and learn to let it emerge more and more.
If you’ve ever gone to the beach and ventured into the water you’ll know that if you stepped off the shore and directly into the depths that it isn’t very much fun. It’s frightening. We need the shallows to get us into the water. But if we want to really swim we need to move through the shallows and head for the deeps. You can’t swim in a wading pool!
I don’t think we can die to our Shallow Self and live only in our Deep Self. But I do think we desperately need to die to the idea that our Shallow Self is enough – that our Shallow Self is all there is – that our Shallow Self is our true being. It’s not.
But it’s very safe and secure in the Shallows. You’re enjoying the feel of the water but you haven’t given yourself over to it yet. Moving to the deeper water requires more of you. You need to know how to swim. You need some techniques and training. You need a mentor to show you the way. The Shallows are nice for what they are but the Deeps are where the real swimming happens. It takes much more commitment.
That crowd following Jesus is looking to play on the sandbar. They’ve brought their bathing suits and water wings and they’re asking “how’s the water?”
Jesus dares to answer them truthfully. “The water’s wonderful, but it gets deep pretty quickly. Whoever does not move through the Shallows and dive into the Deeps cannot be my disciple. Don’t come in unless you’re prepared to really get wet! You can’t reach the Depths and stay dry! You must be prepared to “die” to the dry!”
That’s the fine print!
And then he gives a couple of examples about understanding the full extent of what you’re getting into. If you’re going to build something you first sit down and do a budget. Only a fool starts building without knowing if they can bear the cost. And if you’re going to pick a fight you really ought to know whether your opponent is stronger than you or you might end up getting your butt kicked!
And then the big finish. Here’s the cost. Here’s the fine print.
Luke 14:33 “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Again it’s a language problem. Possessions here aren’t just material things; it means “that which you already have.” It’s not about a vow of perpetual poverty. It’s more profound than that. What you already have is what your hand is currently grasping. You cannot receive the “new” if you cannot let go of the “old.” You can’t receive something new if your hand is closed. It’s that simple.
The challenge is that what our hand is currently holding feels like the most important thing ever. To let it go, to let its hold on us go, feels huge, and scary, and overwhelming. It feels like dying – because it is. That’s cruciformity. That’s what it means to take up your cross and follow.
It doesn’t mean to “hate” your family or your life. It means to choose something deeper and more fundamental first – God – and then to engage the world not solely from the Shallows but more and more from the Depths.
And here’s the amazingly wonderful thing about this: you’ll end up loving your family MORE, because you will be immersed in the depths of love.
And you’ll probably end up being more successful, because at your core you won’t be mucking about in the Shallows so much but living out of the Depths – which promises more insight, more strength of purpose, more commitment, more passion, more wisdom, more peace. Aren’t those the very things that bring real success in the world?
Jesus stood and looked at the crowd and said, “Go jump in the lake!” And many left him, for they did not realize they were actually fish!
And then for those who stuck around he said, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”
And they stepped into the Shallows,
and seeing that there was more they moved deeper and deeper until they were all wet.
And they were home.
And they swam with joy!
Aren’t you glad you stuck around to read the fine print?!