Year C, Pentecost 13
Like many of you, I was disturbed to see the images of Hurricane Dorian battering the Bahamas and I was of course worried for the people of Florida and the Carolinas. But I have to confess, I wasn’t that worried. I wasn’t overly concerned—until we were in the path of the hurricane and suddenly I was glued to the news because it had the potential to affect me, my family and the people near and dear to my heart. While that is not a noble admission, I don’t think it’s particularly shocking to hear someone admit that they are more concerned about things that directly affect them than those things that have no direct effect on them. Humans are innately self-centered. Our primary concern is our survival and the survival of our family. While that is normal, it’s not particularly Christian. To be Christian, is to care for all people, especially those in need.
This Gospel text today is painful. I have had two Sundays off preaching. The last time I preached, Jesus announced that he had come not to bring peace, but division. Now Jesus is telling the crowd that is following him, “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.” If Jesus was trying to recruit more people to his mission, that was a serious misstep. There are some things in this Gospel text I can explain that might make this reading a little more palatable. But to be honest, it’s not supposed to be a comfortable reading. While there are all kinds of Bible passages that bring comfort and solace, this is not meant to bring comfort. Jesus was many things—but he was not—a people pleaser. He was a truth teller. Some of those truths got him killed.
I often think of this text when people reference family values in the context of the Bible. The way we think about family values now has very little to do with what Jesus taught. It’s true that hate is probably not the best translation. To hate is a Semitic expression meaning to turn away from, to detach from. In using the word hate, Jesus was not suggesting that we have a disdain for our family, or even a mild dislike. When Jesus told people they had to hate their family and even their life—he meant that family was no longer to be your priority. Jesus was very clear on what was to be the priority of his disciples—following him. When a disciple asked to bury his father before following Jesus, Jesus told him to let the dead bury the dead. Jesus did not typically give people time to get their affairs in order and then follow him. The 12 apostles left their homes and family. Jesus left his home. While he certainly had a loving mother who he cared for, that love was rarely described in the Gospels.
Earlier in the Gospel of Luke Jesus was speaking to another crowd. Someone told him that his mother and brothers were there and they wanted to talk to him. He replied, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” On the one hand, I would think that would have been fairly painful for his family to hear that. On the other hand, this is the same boy who walked away from his parents at age 12 and went to a temple. When his parents found him 3 days later he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Of course I would be in my father’s house.” Now this is not to say that Jesus was cruel or uncaring to his family. I am sure he was a loving son. But for him, family was bigger than those related to him by blood. His family was all those who heard the word of God and did it.
At its essence, that is what Christianity is—it is the creation of a new broader family. We are no longer merely linked to those we grow up with or those we know, we are linked to all Christians everywhere. There are other places where Jesus implies we are linked to all people regardless or faith, but here, Jesus is talking about his followers. That would have been a revolutionary idea at the time, because the Jewish faith was very focused on the family. Those were your people. You even married your cousin. Jesus was essentially saying that families no longer had borders.
So what does that mean? Does that mean we have to love our families less? Of course not. But it does mean that God calls us to shift the way we think of our families. There is no limit to our ability to love. It’s not like we have a certain amount of love or compassion and we can’t possibly spare more. God calls us to expand the circle of those we care for, those who we consider family.
Having an adopted son who doesn’t look anything like me, and has a completely different lineage than I has shifted my understanding of family. It has not led me to believe that color or culture doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. What it has done is opened my eyes to different groups of people and different issues, because now, they are mine. You don’t have to legally adopt a child to understand that. Families come in all kinds of glorious shapes, sizes and colors. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he wrote, “(God) destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ…. to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” We are not merely children of God, we are adopted children of God. We are a mishmash of race, sexual orientation, differing physical and emotional abilities, age, gender—you name it and our Christian family has it.
Typically when a storm passes us by, our initial reaction is to give a sigh of relief and then sometimes thank God that it spared us. But the thing is, often when we miss the worst of a storm, it’s because the storm hit somewhere else. Obviously we cannot control where a storm hits, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless. When you find yourself thanking God for sparing you, your property or people you love, consider those who were effected and try to give something, even in a small way. With this hurricane, it might be giving to Episcopal Relief and Development or any one of the many organizations that provide assistance when disaster strikes. Because the thing is, we are one big family. This whole world is one family. We take care of our family.