This is one of those good news words from Jesus that don’t feel like good news! These are challenging words, sober words, words that ask you to ‘get real’ about your loyalty, commitment, way of living as a Christian – as a person actually following Jesus from the heart in your real decisions, relationships and future hopes.
This is not a word that is calling into question who Jesus has already made us to be. He has suffered all our evil, died our death and risen to a new life in which he rules and shapes our lives. He has found us, loved us, spoken us into new life in him. This is never in doubt from his point of view.
All of his good work has cost him everything. This gift of a hopeful life, a joyful life, a meaningful life or work and prayer and community belonging has been paid for in full by Jesus.
This word speaks to how we respond to him and his gifts and his calling for his ongoing hopes and dreams for his world.
How do we live in his grace? How do we fulfil his purposes, his meaning his mission to love people into his grace? If this word says anything it shows how we live in royal gifts we have been given and will always live in will cost us – and cost us personally.
This word is often titles “The Cost of Discipleship” – the personal and relationship cost of loyally, faithfully, courageously following Jesus and his teaching, his calling in a world that neither knows him or wants him.
It is strong wording isn’t it. “Hate your family”, Jesus says. Let’s understand that Jesus is not saying ill-treat or disrespect your mum or dad or other family members. He is using a Jewish traditional way of making a strong point. Psalm 45 is an example
Jesus has used this strong language of “hatred” before. Jesus points out that many will hate his followers because of their association with him (Luke 6:22, 27; 21:17), but his followers are to return the hate with love (Luke 6:27).
The point is not hateful behaviour is what we engage in to follow Jesus, to anyone, let alone our closest people. The point is single-focus, highest priority, singular loyalty and commitment above all other loyalties and commitments. He is calling us to be people of solid refusal to allow something less valuable (our own needs, hopes, ideas, dreams….) to displace something more valuable (his acceptance hope, joy and love for now and forever).
This happens in real life – not because of our greatness but because of his great goodness than changes us. Once you have received the great gifts of constant acceptance, forgiveness, power to love, healing and life for all of life from Jesus, it will be your highest priority, your most important foundation for living your life, your single-minded direction for life.
Of course, the first century people who lived in a very ‘family-based’ society hearing these strong words would not be delighted with this call! We might not be either! So many of them would be living in close family proximity and relationship involved with family, work, business, farm and synagogue.
But the call still stands. Jesus has said elsewhere that no one can successfully serve two masters. (Luke 16:13). It is obvious that to be graced with the love and hope of God an called to live in that life will cost you in life. Jesus obviously requires serious seekers with dedicated devotion.
He uses two everyday examples to help the people understand his call on their life. He uses building a building and fighting a fight – two things that were a daily lived experience for the people hearing him this day.
The building of a building – Who would put themselves in serious financial and family risk or just waste their time on embarking on a renovation or building project without securing the materials, finances and skilled people to do complete the job? Even if the building project is rather bumpy or at times a little uncertain in some ways (as it is now post-covid!), you would have to be sure you have basically got it covered if all the plans actually come to fruition. That is the wise way to go.
So, as Jesus real family who are not his family because of blood and family name, but by his blood and his name (Luke 8:20-21), Jesus is calling us to adopt a similar approach to living in his grace among others. – to think it through, to be prepared, to be patient and see things through, to count the cost and the move into paying it with wise heads and kind hearts for the long term good.
And the Fighting of a fight: They lived under Roman rule. The sight of soldiers in their streets was normal. The threat or Roman justice dominated their lives. They knew the stories of the old days when Babylon levelled the city, when the Assyrians and the Philistines attacked their country and etc…. Surely they understood that to pick a fight you need to be relatively sure you can win the fight. It is silly to do so – at least humanely speaking. It was not that way for Israel quite often!
Now, we as people of Jesus’ kingdom community are not merely builders of a building somewhere or a fighters in some military or other conflict in any given place and time. We are involved, as we know with the building of a human living building called the Body of Christ, the church, the kingdom, the community of Jesus’ resurrection grace. And we are in a fight. It is a spiritual fight for the heart for people. We are fishers of people. We are in a fight under the leadership and in the power of King Jesus, the King of kings and it is not fundamentally seen or physically but unseen and deeply spiritual (Ephesians 6).
We have no chance of winning this spiritual, universal a constant battle. We have no chance of building this living body of human beings. Only this risen Jesus can do that, but he employs us in his building and fighting. He gives us good food, healing, vision, love, even armour of his truthful word, his right way of living in in his grace (righteousness) and peace in our hearts to work for peace as much as it is up to us (Ephesians 6).
Like the effective soldier who wears the armour and fights in the fight under the orders of his commander and the site builder who manages to project and sees it through, this is to be me and you.
What we have received from our commander for the fight and our foundation stone for the greatest living building on earth is more valuable that anything or anyone we possess.
And why wouldn’t you lay down your possessions, your house, your farm, your family, your ideas, hopes, dreams, needs, will, before this magnificent Comander-in-Chief who has achieved what no gun or tradesperson can achieve in the fighting of our fights or the building of our possessions? This Jesus has achieved complete freedom, complete hope, complete love, complete life for living now and one day in ways too full to know yet.
This is challenging for those of us who live in a country that has much and gives much to those who don’t.
All I can do as the preacher is to ask you to do this:
Allow Jesus’ words in this passage to get equal time in all the other words you are listening to.
To look at the long arc of your life and ask what is important to you and what you hope for your years and your family and business and contribution to the world.
And to do this out of guilt or in doubt of your highly loved place in the Lord’s family – that us sure). To do this kind of reflection not because you ‘should’, but because you can You have the abundant life and way of discipleship of Jesus with all its necessary sacrifices, some know, some not.
Hear him, not to earn God’s grace but to live into the discipleship life that grace makes possible.
Friends, may we be Christians of caliber and character. The world needs that because it needs his grace – and it will cost you.