Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 14:25-35, are hard to hear.
If we’re to follow Jesus–in other words, if we’re going to receive forgiveness of sin and everlasting life with God, is Jesus telling us we have to hate our parents, spouses, kids, siblings, and our very own lives?
Is He abrogating the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother”? (Exodus 20:12)
Is He telling us that He was only kidding when He summarized God’s Law–”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…[and] Love your neighbor as yourself”? (Matthew 22:37, 39)
Or, is the God we know in Jesus Christ spouting one of those alleged inconsistencies that the uninformed and disbelieving claim to detect in Scripture?
As to this last question, let’s be clear. Both the Old and New Testaments say that God is consistent and unchangeable. God is the one, Psalm 55:19 affirms, “...with Whom there is no change.” And in the book of James in the New Testament, we’re told that in God, “...there is no variation or shifting shadow…” (James 1:17) So, when we encounter what we think is an inconsistency from God, shrugging our shoulders or deciding to follow the God of our imaginative preferences or give up on God altogether are not options.
Assuming it’s our desire to follow Jesus, let’s unflinchingly consider what He tells us this morning.
The context in which Jesus speaks His words is, as always, important. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem. He knows that this journey He’s taking to Jerusalem won’t be a walk in the park. Jesus didn’t come to bring the human race a Hallmark Channel coziness that, at most, can keep us comfortable until we die. The wages of sin is still death and our sin–yours and mine–must be dealt with if we’re to be the people God intends for us to be or if we are to have eternity with God. (Romans 6:23) That’s what Jesus has come to do. The crowd, like us maybe, sees Jesus as a messianic hero, someone who can make hard lives easy. But Jesus wants much more for us than to make us happy in this condemned universe. Jesus has come “to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) He’s come to find and eternally restore to God, lost people who are in bondage to sin and incapable of freeing themselves. To save us, Jesus’ journey will lead Him to a cross. There, Jesus, sinless and pure, will take the punishment of death we deserve.
Just before today’s lesson, Jesus told His parable of the great banquet. In it, He said that God invites all people, even those deemed unworthy by the world, to come to His banquet. (Luke 14:12-24) God wants everyone to hear and believe the good news that through Jesus, anyone who repents of sin and believes in Jesus will have everlasting life with God.
And right after speaking the words in our lesson, Jesus tells three parables about God seeking and saving the lost: the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. (Luke 15:1-32) God loves and wants to save all people. And at the cross, Jesus will do everything necessary to save us from sin, death, and condemnation.
But now, in today’s lesson, Jesus speaks hard truths. He says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)
It’s important to understand that the word translated here as hate is, in the original Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel, μισεῖ (misei). It’s a comparative term reflective of the Aramaic and Hebrew languages native to Jesus and His fellow first century Jews. It means, “love less, esteem less, value less.”
Jesus is not saying that we should dishonor our parents, be contemptuous of our families, or mistreat the bodies He’s given to us.
He’s telling us that we cannot let the love that we have for our spouses, families, children, or our own well being prevent us from doing what He told us to do earlier in Luke’s gospel: deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him. (Luke 9:23)
Now, knowing that the word translated as hate is comparative doesn’t make what Jesus says any less challenging! And what He says is far more practical than we may realize.
There are people in marriages to spouses who want to go out to brunch on Sunday mornings rather than worship God.
There are parents who daily face the easy path of submitting to the culture and the demands of sports and music and activities rather than seeing that their children are in worship, Sunday School, or Catechism whenever possible.
There are family members who tell us that if we don’t endorse their sinful lifestyle, they don’t want to have anything to do with us anymore.
Now, believe me, I am not insulting anyone here. Nor am I making light of the challenges people face. I’ve faced some of these same challenges in my own life.
I’m simply pointing out that our daily lives can bring home the issue Jesus addresses this morning. Daily, we’re confronted with life and death questions. Like, who do we value most: Jesus or our spouses? Jesus or our significant others? Jesus or our kids? Jesus or our parents? Jesus or our comfort? Jesus or our careers? Jesus or our acceptance by others? Jesus or our lives?
Friends, I confess that when I read Jesus’ words, I am convicted. I look into the mirror of God’s Law and I see that while I have never been guilty of hating Jesus, I have been guilty of putting other things ahead of Him and His will for my life. Usually without noticing it. God, forgive me!
“When Christ calls a man,” Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, “He bids Him come and die.” If we are to rise with Jesus and live with God eternally, we must also die to ourselves and turn to Jesus: our only hope, our only Lord.
Now let’s be clear. Jesus offers us the free gift of God’s forgiveness of our sin and eternal life with God. There is nothing we must do and nothing we can do to earn this gift.
Jesus has already earned it at the cross.
He’s already destroyed the devil’s dominion over God’s creation, already conquered the power of sin to condemn us to life without God, already torn down the dividing wall between God and us, already earned the righteousness–the rightness with God–necessary for us to be acceptable to heaven. Jesus already has done everything necessary to save the lost and bring them–to bring us–into God’s everlasting kingdom.
In Jesus Christ, we really are free from all condemnation! “There is nothing for me to do,” notes one Lutheran theologian, “but to appropriate this [victory won by Jesus] to myself.”
This appropriation is what Jesus means when He tells us to believe in Him. And the Bible says that even our belief, our faith, in Jesus comes to us as a free gift of the Holy Spirit working in the Word and Sacraments.
So, Jesus is telling us today to listen for His voice when the devil, the world, our sinful selves, and even the people we love, may seek to drown Him out.
Listen when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2)
Listen when He says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36)
Listen when His Word tells you, “[baptism] saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21)
Listen when Jesus says, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20)
By these and all the words of God we have in Scripture, God empowers us to appropriate–to receive and to believe–all that Jesus has earned for us and all Jesus has promised to us through His cross and resurrection!
An old saying tells us, “Buyer, beware.” Jesus isn’t selling us anything, of course. He’s come to give us life with God freely.
But today, He is telling us, “Believers and prospective believers, beware.” That’s what He means by His parables telling us to count the cost of being His disciple.
Jesus hasn’t come to accessorize your life. He’s not like a new haircut, handbag, car, grill, or, for that matter, political philosophy.
He’s come to be your life. That’s what He means when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) There is no such thing as life or eternal life apart from Jesus. Without Jesus, we’re eternally dead. Jesus has come to give you a whole new and different life, a life that will not end.
And that will entail killing off your old sinful self. He starts doing that at the moment you are baptized. And, as He calls you to daily repentance and renewal, He’ll keep doing it until the day you leave this earth. He will kill off your old self so that your new self, the person God made you to be, can daily rise until that day, this old creation’s last day, when, Jesus says, “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live…” (John 5:25)
There’s a cost to life with Jesus. It means accepting the conviction and death of our old selves, our old ways, our sinful nature.
But to those who listen and follow, it will also mean life and resurrection with God!
This past Tuesday, at Donna’s funeral, we remembered the words of Jesus to the grieving Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
Whatever the cost to our egos, our comfort, or our relationships, may we daily hear and trust in Jesus and so live with Him forever. Amen