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Gospel: Luke 14:25-35
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life [ψυχὴν soul?] itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
34“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
A dark sense of humour might have us thinking that we'll have discipleship nailed, because we can't stand our families— and for good reason, too. But what kind of faith would demand that we hate our families!? Is this the same Jesus who said "Love one another as I have loved you!?" and "Love your neighbour as you love yourself!?"
Jesus was speaking in a time when family was everything. People had no existence apart from their family. You had to do what the family did, and what the family needed you to do. Otherwise the whole family suffered. If a son left home when he was needed on the farm, the family could starve.
This need went far beyond staying on the farm. It was not just about looking after elderly parents— that's a good thing. If the family decided they hated the other family down the road, then you had to hate them too. This has shifted into our time. If the family and the village decided they hated Catholics, then you had to hate Catholics. God forbid that you'd marry one, or even do business with one. If the family hates Muslims and thinks refugees should be held in concentration camps, then that's what you are supposed to do, too. And if you don't?
Well, Tom was an only son. And he wanted to be a doctor. Which would mean leaving the farm. "What are we going to do? Who'll run the farm?" his father asked. "Do you hate us, or something?"
Scholars wonder if when the new Christians felt Jesus calling them to act differently to the family— to make friends with the refugees, perhaps, perhaps then their families said, "Do you hate us or something?" And Jesus said, "Well, if you won't wear that, if you cave in to the prejudices and demands of your family, you can't be my disciple."
"To be my disciple, you have to wear the lie that you hate your family. And that might just cost you your life. You might be so badly shunned that you starve. Or someone might kill you for it."
This was really hard for the early Christians. Because in their culture, family was their whole world, so to speak. It was their insurance, their retirement, their health system, their social security.
We like to think that our society is not like that. We have a social security system and a health system for example. But I think we are worse. We live under a constant barrage of societal propaganda: buy this; live like that. The government is constantly inviting us to hate refugees, to hate people who are unemployed, and to hate people who are old. Why? Because then we will forget that the government is doing nothing about climate change. We will forget that the government is lining the pockets of the rich, instead of caring for the whole of society. And we'll blame all of the problems on those people we've been taught to hate.
I'm going to look at just one little slice of our society, to remind us how egregious this is. We know how bad and how slack and lazy unemployed people are. We get told this over and again. But...
There has not been a rise in unemployment benefits in 25 years, which is a reduction in real terms of 40%. The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty has warned that the inadequate level of Newstart is designed to leave out-of-work Australians “increasingly miserable”.
And it is by design. I quote: "Yes, those very 733,088 Newstart-receiving unemployed people who are expected to survive on the lowest rate of unemployment assistance in the OECD, 64% of whom are on it longer than a year, are there by virtue of deliberate policy." You can read about that policy on the Reserve Bank website.
The government (both stripes) tells us that people are lazy and won't get jobs. There are jobs to be had they say. But in fact, the ratio of jobs to people wanting work was, in December 2018, around 1 job to 15.57 job seekers. That's on the Unemployed Worker's Union web site. The figure is based on the government's own statistics.
Of course, the Unemployed Workers Union say someone with a job for an hour a week, or only a day's work, is un-employed, rather than employed. The government doesn't count like that.. But even the most conservative figures admit a ratio of 5 people for every 1 job.
So there is a lie here. We are being invited to swallow the lie because it suits big business and it suits the people in power to abandon compassion and justice and decency for the sake of their own goals.
If we follow their line, it may help us. If we don't follow it; if we speak up, they will hate us. Already, whistle blowers who are exposing government corruption in other areas are being threatened with life imprisonment, and public protest is being restricted with new laws.
But if we don't speak up, we can't be Jesus' disciples. He is that blunt. If we remain silent, if we keep voting for the politicians on both sides of politics who want things to continue as they are, then we are not disciples of Jesus; we are disciples of Empire. We are choosing the status quo instead of the Kingdom of God.
At the end of the reading, Jesus says again, "you are not able to be my disciples." The NRSV changes the words to make the translation flow smoothly, but the Greek words are just the same as the previous two occasions: You are not able to be my disciples if "you do not give up all your possessions." If family hates us; if the government which has replaced so much of family hates us; if society hates us, we'd better be prepared for the fact that we may lose everything. In many parts of the world, people do.
How do we live this if we are old, if we are pensioners, if we are sick? We could join Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children. Or it may be as simple, in hospital, as reporting to a senior nurse that the coloured person in the next bed is being treated badly, or that the person in the next room in our old folks home was hit by a staff member. Or it may be to stand up on the floor of synod and call out abuse or bullying. And it might cost us everything.
What happens if we fail? I know only two things here. One is that God does not reject us. God does not fail us even when we have failed God. We can even be an absolute pig of a person like the prodigal son, who is in the next chapter of Luke, and God will still forgive us.
But the other thing I see in Luke— it was skipped over by the lectionary last week, and the lectionary skips over it again next week— is banquets and parties. They symbolise the Kingdom of God. (Luke 14:15-24, and Luke 15:25-32, esp vv 28) And in each case, the chosen people of God refuse to go to the banquet. They refuse to enter the Kingdom. The elder brother is told "you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours" but refuses to go in to the feast.
Refusing to be a disciple does something to us. God does not— God never— refuses us. But it seems we can refuse God, and that it damages us. I struggle to be a disciple, but I really really want to be able to go into the feast of the Kingdom.
Andrew Prior (2019)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!