A few weeks ago Jesus announced that he did not come to bring peace, but division. He was really only reporting things as they were. Jesus’ presence had divided families and communities. Some people thought he was the long-awaited messiah, others did not, still others probably didn’t care one way or the other. But there was division over it.
This week, Jesus takes it one step further. A crowd was following him, and Jesus didn’t really like crowds. In the Bible he was always going off by himself, going up into mountains and things. One time he walked through a crowd so fast that nobody even saw him! Jesus knew that crowds are funny things. People get all riled up when they are in a crowd. They are eager to join in, easy to sway, even to incite to violence. It’s possible that some in the crowd that day even hoped that Jesus would incite them to violent revolt against their Roman oppressors. But, Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he looked at them and said something like this:
Let go of everything you hold dear, including your own soul! For possessiveness will make it impossible to follow me. I can not give you new life until you lose your old one. This will be excruciating, like being crucified. It is shameful and painful. There are no guarantees, but this is what is required. (Author’s paraphrase)
I suspect that there was something less of a crowd when Jesus finished, and that was the objective.
This is the passage that proves Jesus is not interested in your ASA.
Here he actively tried to thin the numbers because Jesus is not interested in a mob mentality. Group-think is antithetical to a life of discipleship. Jesus would rather have a handful of followers who will choose to give up their life of possessing for a life of being possessed by him.
The passage assigned for this morning sounds shocking. How could Jesus say such a thing? Didn’t he say we should love our enemies? Pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us? Didn’t he say that was how to become children of God? And now he is saying to hate our mother and father, our brother and sister, even ourselves. Isn’t Jesus contradicting himself? And, really, aren’t I just softening it up with my pie-in-the-sky paraphrase?
Further study bears up identifying possessiveness as an issue in this passage. And, think about it, mother, father, brothers, sisters… aren’t those the things we hold most dear? As for carrying your cross, how many people do you know who have actually been crucified? On a cross? Recently? So, I think we are on safe ground to interpret this passage allegorically. It’s not about hating your family. It’s about letting go of what is most precious to you. Maybe it’s not your family. Maybe it’s something else. Still, let it go. That’s what this passage says. Doing that will be painful. There are no guarantees. Yet, the message is clear: The cost of discipleship is simple. The cost is everything.
Throughout his ministry Jesus has given us clues as to what taking up a cross means. Most recently, in the first part of this very chapter, he told us to invite the most unlikely people to our parties, people who lived outside the city wall, people who would never be able to reciprocate. In doing so we might lower our own status. But we’ve let go of that. Later he warned against the entanglements of family, property, the web of the world. And, again, it was the most unlikely who filled the banquet hall. In each instance Jesus was tearing at the fabric of tradition that held the poor in their place, the outcast outside, and the rich in their banquet halls. It is in this context of overturning the norms of society that Jesus says we must give up the things that seem precious to us, even if they are members of our own family, or just our status in the community, or our love of being admired.
The people in the crowd that day did not know that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to be killed on a cross, but the writer of this story would have known. It wasn’t lost on the writer that in losing his life Jesus had undone death for all time. Nobody who knows Jesus fears death. Jesus conquered death. That is why we don’t have to hold on so tightly to the things that matter most to us. We can release everything we love, even ourselves and our outsized ideas of who we are, we can let that go.
There’s a trite little meme that says it better than I can: If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you then that’s good and if it doesn’t then something else. You get the idea. The meme is only half right. Let it go, by all means. But it is not likely to return to you the way it was before, but you may be able to receive it as a gift, freely offered, to remain free and yet loved.
It is the same with us and God. When Jesus got to Jerusalem, he was tried, convicted, and hanged on a cross. During that time the whole earth was dark and God turned his back on Jesus, and on us. But, by conquering death Jesus was able to offer himself back to God as a gift, not as a possession, not something owned, but something freely given.
We too, when we release the entanglements of everything… and there are a lot of them, I know, we can freely offer ourselves to God and be received as precious gifts, not possessions. It is not easy. It’s the requirement.
Linda McMillan is still in Texas.
Luke 12:51… Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
Matthew 14:23… After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night,, he was there alone.
Matthew 6:15… Then Jesus, realising that they were about to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Luke 4:30… But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way
You can read a very basic article about crowd psychology here.
“Love your enemies, pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you that you may be the children of your father who is in heaven. For he maketh the sun to shine on the just and on the unjust, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?…” is part of the Sermon on the Mount. You can read it in Matthew 5
Luke 14… when you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your fiends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
©Linda Diane McMillan, 2019