Summary: How can we hate our parents, partners and children? It has to be the most offensive exhortation Jesus ever gave - telling us that we have to hate the ones we love th most.
As soon as I noticed that our Gospel reading today was the one that begins by telling us that we’ve got to ’hate our mothers and fathers’, I decided then and there to give my sermon today on Paul’s Letter to Philemon!
No, as much as I’d like to do that, I feel I have to stick with "hate your mother and father". I can’t really do otherwise, can I? It’s a text that’s just crying out to be defused, isn’t it?
If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you’ve gotta "hate your mother and father and wife and children and brothers and sisters and, yes, even your own life" - hate them, hate them, hate them all!
... ’Oh, I’m not sure that I remembered earlier to greet Ange’s mother and father (Di and Frank) who are with us today. They’ve come all the way up from Dalmeny to be here. It’s just lovely to have you two with us ... lovely!
Look! If you’re thinking Di and Frank picked the wrong week to be here, it was only a couple of weeks back that Jesus was telling us how He was turning father against son and son against father, and mother against daughter and daughter against mother and absolutely everybody against the mother-in-law!
In truth, you’ve gotta pick your weeks when your son-in-law is pastoring a church that follows the lectionary, don’t you? And I suspect that this is what is going on with the phone when Ange invites mum and dad to stay: "What, this Sunday? Hang on ... that’s the 14th Sunday in Pentecost, isn’t it? Let me check the readings and get back to you!"
It’s dangerous stuff, these teachings of the Gospels, and none more dangerous than this teaching!
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, etc., etc. he cannot be my disciple"
What do we make of this? It’s an embarrassment, isn’t it?
I received an email from our Archdeacon this week, warning us about a certain Islamic lay-preacher who is going around and challenging local churches to engage him in public debate.
The warning we were given was that, based on the ’negative experience’ of those who have dealt with this guy thus far, we should NOT agree to engage him in public debate. And from what I could work out, the reason for avoiding this guy is that our guys have thus far been losing their debates!
I don’t know exactly who this guy is. I’m guessing that he’s a Sunni Moslem, with a strong emphasis on the rational nature of Islam, as contrasted with the seemingly irrational nature of Christian doctrine. And let’s be honest; the most serious problem we have to deal with in such debates is the Bible itself
I can see this guy asking, "Hang on! Is not this Jesus, who you say is the physical embodiment of Divine Love, also the guy who told us that we had to hate our mother and fathers and sisters and brothers and children?" And I’d be saying, "yeah, well .. , He did say that" (but thinking, "Damn! I was hoping he hadn’t come across that bit")!
It’s a bit of an embarrassment.
And I know that when He said we’ve got to hate them, that He didn’t really mean that we should hate them, but that IS what He said, and we’re just gonna have to wear that! It’s in the book!
One positive, ’Good News’ dimension to this, mind you, is that it gives us a good response to give to those whiny, pseudo-academics who’ve just finished reading "The Da Vinci Code" and think they’ve got this whole Christian religion thing all worked out. "Yeah, but I think the Bible stories were just put together by the church, a long time after Jesus was off the scene!"
"C’mon! Do you really think any of us would have written this?" No way! Not in a society that equates ’Christian values’ with ’family values’.
Was it any different back in the days when the New Testament was written? Were they any less ’pro family’ back then? Certainly the Jews were NOT, being the most tribal (and hence most intensely family-orientated) society of all time! And certainly not the 1st Century Romans either, who apparently idealised the family to the point of obsession, though maybe this helps explain why Jesus had to speak so directly on the matter, to the point of just being blatantly offensive!
’Hate your mother, hate your father, hate your wife, hate your life!’ I guess we really ought to put these statements in the context of the passage as a whole that Jesus is dealing with, which is part of Jesus’ wisdom teaching.