St. Philip Lutheran Church
4 September 2022 + Lect. 23c (Pentecost 13)
Rev. Josh Evans
Having a bumper sticker with the name of my congregation and the statement that “Love > Hate” has gone a long way to keep my road rage in check these last couple of years. But no more! According to Jesus, hate is, apparently, the way to go: “Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Yikes! If following Jesus means hating everyone I’m close to and even life itself, count me out.
Of course, that can’t really be what Jesus is saying, right? After all, this is still the same Jesus who heals the sick, mingles with outcasts, and dines with sinners and tax collectors, who proclaims release for the captives and freedom for the oppressed, and who – just verses before – told a parable about how there’s a place for everyone and everyone has a place at God’s banquet table.
Matthew’s gospel puts it a bit more gently: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (10.37)
But we’re in Luke today, and Luke just sounds harsh – and well, not very much like Jesus.
The word Jesus uses for “hate” can indeed mean hate in the sense we use it in English: When I say I hate green beans because they’re one of the most vile vegetables on planet Earth, it means I detest them and avoid them at all costs.
In too many circles of the church, it’s this sense of hatred that takes center stage – except it’s not green beans that people hate. It’s their fellow human beings. Gandhi famously captured this sentiment best when he observed: “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Even those of us in the “progressive” church still have to contend with these accusations and admit the harm that hatred perpetuated in the name of Jesus has caused.
To be perfectly clear: This kind of hatred is incompatible with the reign of God that Jesus is all about.
So what, then, does Jesus mean when he suggests we need to “hate” our parents, siblings, partners, children, and even life itself in order to be his disciple?
In another sense, the word Jesus uses for “hate” has more to do with how we prioritize people and things. Ranking our priorities necessarily means that some things are higher on the list than others. You can’t have ten “number one” priorities, but it also doesn’t mean that priorities #2-10 aren’t important either.
When you move, for example, as I just have this week, you know there’s a certain order to what you pack and unpack. You learn what has greater value – things you use everyday – based on what gets packed last … and you also learn what might have lesser value based on what sits in a box long after you arrive at your new home.
Jesus isn’t advocating for hatred and hostility. Instead, he’s urging us to consider what and who we value most.
Jesus’s directive sounds harsh, but this is hyperbole. It’s an exaggerated extreme to get a point across. Jesus wants our full attention and allegiance. You’re either “all in” or you’re not. No one can serve two masters, right?
Just because Jesus demands our full attention, it doesn’t mean our community – parents, siblings, partners, children, friends – isn’t important. And in fact, following Jesus will necessarily demand a shifting of our priorities to advocate for the safety and well-being of others.
Contrary to the ways the church often gets it wrong, following Jesus means valuing certain things. When we say “Black Lives Matter” or advocate for justice for a particular marginalized group, we know that it’s not asking us to diminish the value of other lives. But it is asking us to be in solidarity with and fight for those lives whose value is constantly undermined and under attack.
That’s a tall order and a daunting call. The late theologian James Cone puts it this way: “If you are going to worship somebody that was nailed to a tree, you must know that the life of a disciple of that person is not going to be easy.”
You might think there’s no way you can live up to that calling. You might even want to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
But here’s the thing: Because Jesus wants our full attention, he also invites us to bring our full selves – the best and the not-so-great. Jesus didn’t interview his disciples before he called them. He called them from where they were, as they were.
Jesus calls us from where we are, as we are, too. Jesus calls broken and flawed people, who are also beautiful and uniquely gifted, and he calls us to holy and important gospel work.
Jesus calls us now to the work of justice – and the work of a love that really is greater and stronger than hate. And that, beloved, is work we get to do together.