Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Just when you think you’ve found a way to read the Bible that doesn’t make you pull your hair out or throw it out the window, your journey comes to an abrupt halt in front of a monolithic roadblock like this one. Where is Brian McClaren when you need him? Will somebody from the “kinder, gentler Christianity” movement please stand up and do something with this thing? Anybody from the Jesus Seminar around? Dear God! This thing is heavy! What the bleep?
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
“anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
“any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
Ok, before everyone rushes out to get their hammer and chisel and start rounding off the edges of this thing, let me tell you that it won’t help. Save your energy. Everyone makes a mad dash to point out that Jesus didn’t really mean you have to hate your momma. It was just a figure of speech, sort of a theological “shock and awe.” This is obvious from Matthew’s version, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” but ‘hello!’ this is not any easier to swallow.
Jesus is saying that if we’re going to follow Him we have to love Him more than our parents, our family, even our own lives. So before we all get too comfortable with this Jesus we’ve been touting on our blogs, you had better get in the Gospels and find out just which Jesus we’re talking about. Sure, it’s an easy thing to be in love with the Mr. Rogers version of Jesus, the flannel board version, the Santa Claus version, the social activist version, the Dr. Phil version, but what about the real version? Will the real Jesus please stand up?
That’s really what studying the Bible is about isn’t it? Trying to discover the authentic Jesus to enable us to live an authentic faith. The problem with a passage like this is that it demands a response. You cannot ignore it. You cannot move it. What do you do with it? You cannot explain it away. This isn’t a story about walking on water, raising the dead, or healing the blind. By all measures of scholarship this is the historical Jesus, raising the stakes for all of us in this merry band of “Christians” on the journey with Him to Jerusalem.
Some people apparently got the idea that hanging with Jesus was all about dinner parties, free hillside buffets, magic shows, witty debates, and adventure. No doubt many of those traveling with Him nearer to Jerusalem had the mentality of those that waved the palm branches and shouted “Hosanna!” when He walked into town. They thought He was launching a revolution to overthrow the Romans. Not quite.
Jesus would have been a lousy pastor today. We spend all our time trying to draw a crowd and keep it. He spent more of His time sending them away. Maybe this is like in Batman Returns when Bruce Wayne disperses his dinner party by faking a drunken rant in order to save them from the bad guys there to kill him. No, not hardly. This is an invitation to follow Him but at your own risk.
Often times in history the most devout fall into the extremism of belief, which almost always ends in “kill or be killed.” In the movie Syriana George Clooney’s character noted, “you can’t bomb this out of them.” We’ve seen modern reinterpretations of calls to arms, which usually entail fund-raising, letter writing, screaming from the top of your lungs wearing a plywood plackard, and in some cases guns, but when Jesus launched a revolution he went on neither offense nor defense. He went to Jerusalem as a lamb to the slaughter, silent before his shearers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” It’s a revolution alright, but you don’t pick up your sword. You lay it down.
Less we get too comfortable with Jesus and rank Him among the other great spiritual teachers of history, He makes these outrageous claims, and we struggle to rationalize them. Just who does this guy think He is? Are we really prepared to follow Him? Do we have what it takes? Evangelicals spend all their energy telling people how easy it is to be “saved.” Then once you’re in, they spend the rest of your life telling you how many hoops you have to jump through to be a Christian. I’ve said for years that we’ve got to rewrite the brochures and the infomercials, because the church has no concept of “truth in advertising.”
I’m driving down the expressway and see the latest sermon series plastered on a billboard with cute graphics and catchy slogans, and I’ve got to shake my head. Is this what the gospel has become… a marketing campaign? Watered down, politically correct, culturally compatible, spoon fed mush? It may build big churches and big egos, but it’s a half gospel from a false Messiah. It’s an easy thing to be a “Christian” in America. Try doing it in Iran or China or Sudan. It’s not just about persecution. It’s about living an authentic faith in poverty. The prosperity gospel doesn’t go down so easy on an empty stomach.
I don’t know what to do with a passage like this. I don’t know what to do with a man like this. Sometimes I feel like turning around and walking off like the rich young ruler who went away sad. Other times I think myself committed, then we get to Jerusalem and before the day’s over I’ve denied Him three times. Geez.
All I know to do is in every small decision, every word, every action to choose to act on the side of love, to try to be selfless, to refuse to be owned by things and be swayed by the fickle winds of the culture. Maybe in some small way I can be subversive. Maybe, just maybe, for a moment I can follow Jesus.