Monday, September 10, 2007

Renounce All

The Gospel at Mass yesterday was another with very strong language from Jesus on the conditions of being His disciple.

Is it exaggeration to make a point about suffering? Is it literal?

From Luke Chapter 14:

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them:

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”


cjjb said...

It took me a while to figure this one out, and really understand it. The following helped me:

"hate" is a Semitic expression meaning "to turn away from, to detach oneself from," rather than our animosity-laden understanding. In Genesis, we read in one verse that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (29:30), but in the next verse, it literally says that Leah was hated ("unloved" in NRSV, see also v. 33). Leah was not hated like we usually use the word, but Jacob simply loved her less than he loved Rachel. Jacob didn't have an intense dislike for Leah. In fact, he had seven children with her after these verses! (There must have been something he liked about her!) Note that Matthew 10:37 interprets Jesus' saying: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." The parallel sayings in the Gospel of Thomas use "hate".

Thomas 55:1-2

Jesus said, "Whoever does not hate father and mother cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters, and carry the cross as I do, will not be worthy of me."

Thomas 101:1-3

"Whoever does not hate [father] and mother as I do cannot be my [disciple], and whoever does [not] love [father and] mother as I do cannot be my [disciple]. For my mother [. . .], but my true [mother] gave me life."

In contrast to some testimonies I've heard, where the converts have given up the worst things in their lives: drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc. in order to follow Jesus; Jesus demands that we give up the very best and most important things in our lives in order to follow him.

Some family systems theory thinking may be appropriate to this section. One's identity can be so wrapped up in pleasing (or rebelling against) the family that the person has no real self-identity. With such a person, his or her identity is determined by one's family (or friends or even one's enemies). It could be that Jesus doesn't want disciples who are people who just go along with the crowd, but Jesus seeks disciples who are committed individuals -- those who are aware of the costs of following him -- and choose to follow anyway.

However, in the first century, Mediterranean world, one was always identified by one's family. A father could convert to Christianity and the whole household would be considered Christian. Similar things happened with tribes in Africa; if the chief was converted, the whole tribe was considered Christian. There was some of this with the conversion of Constantine and legalizing (and demanding?) Christianity of the citizens; and with the conversion of Olav in Norway.

Perhaps in other words, when does Christianity need to move from "our" faith to "my" faith?

Earlier Jesus had redefined his family: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8:21). This section ends with an emphasis on "hearing" (35b). If a conflict arises between hearing and doing the word of God and family obligations, which should have priority? How would a first century hearer/reader understand this passage? Is it different than we hear/read it today?

I have been part of discussions about the pros and cons of having Sunday school at the same time as the worship service. I think that this text speaks against such a practice if it is just for the convenience of the members and/or visitors. Being Jesus' disciple was never convenient for the disciples. It was costly -- costly in terms of money, time, relationships, and priorities. It may be that we need to go back to some basics and define being Christian, being Jesus' disciples, being Jesus' followers. Are all these terms synonymous? What are God's responsibilities in making us Christian? What are our responsibilities in being Christian?

Comments in The Five Gospels:

The severity of this saying can only be understood in the context of the primacy of filial relationships. Individuals had no real existence apart from their ties to blood relatives, especially parents. If one did not belong to a family, one had no real social existence [like widows and orphans?]. Jesus is therefore confronting the social structures that governed his society at their core. For Jesus, family ties faded into insignificance in relation to God's imperial rule, which he regarded as the fundamental claim on human loyalty. [p. 353]

How might we apply this text to the political (and frequent church) emphasis on "family values"?

Paul said...

Hey, cjjb. What is the source of this? It's a good exploration of the language in this chapter of Luke.

It's unconventional to reference FIVE gospels. The mainline Christian denominations do not recognize the Gospel of Thomas as being part of the canon and inspired by God.

cjjb said...

I googled the passage and came up with this . . .

It def. gives you a lot to think about, doesn't it? His present day examples and explanations are really eye openers.