Luke 14:15 (ESV) When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, â€œBlessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!â€ 16 But he said to him, â€œA man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, â€˜Come, for everything is now ready.â€™ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, â€˜I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.â€™ 19 And another said, â€˜I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.â€™ 20 And another said, â€˜I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.â€™ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, â€˜Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.â€™ 22 And the servant said, â€˜Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.â€™ 23 And the master said to the servant, â€˜Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.â€™â€
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 â€œIf anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple….. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
A friend asked me to comment on Luke 14:26, Jesusâ€™ statement that anyone who comes to him must â€œhateâ€ mother, father and his own life.
Since this interacted somewhat with our previous discussion of â€œCan We Be Too God-Centered?,â€ I thought it would be a worthwhile topic.
Iâ€™ve reprinted a considerable portion of Luke 14 to place this verse in context. Luke, like all the synoptic Gospels, is very concerned to produce â€œhonestâ€ Jesus followers, that is, disciples who really â€œknow the scoreâ€ and what is expected of them. Throughout this section of Luke, Jesus is giving a decisive call to discipleship that will enter the Kingdom, but not by being like the world. Jesusâ€™ way in Luke is a radical, decisive, revolutionary reorientation; a conscious, constant choice to live as a follower of one whose Kingdom is real, but invisible; whose demand is complete surrender and whose expectation is loyalty at a high price.
This is not Jesus trying to â€œnudgeâ€ people toward discipleship. This isnâ€™t an attempt to include those who have no plans to follow Christ. Itâ€™s not Jesus being coy or gamey. This isnâ€™t Jesus inviting you in on your terms. Without disparaging anyoneâ€™s efforts in relational evangelism, we need to be honest: this is Jesus drawing lines in the sand with some of his most intentionally provocative rhetoric and most challenging invitations.
Whatâ€™s challenging about so much of Luke 14 is how it seems to contradict so many things we take for granted as normal and moral, especially family.
A new landowner assumes he should go see what heâ€™s bought. A farmer buys five oxen- a major purchase- and wants to examine them. A newlywed wants his honeymoon. (Deuteronomy 24:5 gave him a year at home!)
All of these become examples of excuse makers who are more interested in the normal routines of life than the Kingdom of God that is coming.
I would put myself- and all of you- squarely in the group Jesus is describing, by the way. If you think you arenâ€™t an excuse maker who would rather inspect his oxen than enter the Kingdom, youâ€™re not going to see the intent of Jesus.
In the parable where these examples are found (14:15-24), the man giving the banquet (God working through Jesus) must literally drag and force people to come to the banquet. (â€œCompel them to come.â€) Eventually his house is filled with the crippled, the blind, the lame and the assumed uninvited and unwelcome.
Thatâ€™s the Kingdom, Jesus is saying. When itâ€™s here, people donâ€™t recognize it. So they choose this world (a good world!) over the Kingdom thatâ€™s here now, so the Kingdom then belongs to the unlikely; the last , least, lost, lonely, left out and unwanted. In other words, the Kingdom of God is populated by grace-rescued, undeserving people. Itâ€™s not populated by people who couldnâ€™t and wouldnâ€™t recognize Jesus and his rag-tag movement of losers as the Kingdom in their midst right now.
As usual, Jesus is asking if we perceive who he is, and how that changes everything.
But then Jesus really brings out the big surprise. Nothing in this world is more honored and more sacred in Judaism- or in scripture- than a personâ€™s family. Family honor, family respect and family obedience DEFINED a person in ancient Israel. To be disowned by your family was the ultimate curse. To not have a family was to become a non-person.
Interestingly, Jesus deals with this on two fronts, most clearly seen in Mark 3.
In Mark 3, Jesus refuses to see his family when they come to take him home (Mark 3:31.) Within Jesus culture, this would have been seen as tremendously disrespectful to his mother and his family.
This wasnâ€™t just a random action, however. It was quite purposeful. Jesus refusal to go and demonstrate his loyalty and obligation to his family was part of a larger statement he was making, as he is Luke 14, the Kingdom of God.
Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, â€œYour mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.â€ 33 And he answered them, â€œWho are my mother and my brothers?â€ 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, â€œHere are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.â€
Here is Jesus being purposely provocative, going right to the root of normal loyalties and accepted morality, making a shocking demonstration that the Kingdom of God is a new and true family. Jesusâ€™ action of not publicly respecting his family made a clear statement about the nature and priority of the Kingdom of God over the strongest earthly loyalties.
Jesusâ€™ own actions as a 12 year old had foreshadowed this:
Luke 2:48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, â€œSon, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.â€ 49 And he said to them, â€œWhy were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?â€ 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.
So when we come to Luke 14:26 we are listening to someone who has frequently put family on the table as an example of both persecution and sacrifice. Jesus asked the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 to turn his back on the people who had taught him to obey the law, the family who had given him all the gifts of a good upbringing and wealth as well. Jesus said sell it all, abandon your place in the family and come follow me.
This is the same Jesus who was not particularly impressed with Peterâ€™s words about having given up family to follow Jesus.
Mark 10:28 Peter began to say to him, â€œSee, we have left everything and followed you.â€ 29 Jesus said, â€œTruly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.â€
The Kingdom of God- both now and in the future- redefines family and all that family means.
It is Jesus choice of the word â€œhateâ€ that alarms contemporary readers, for reasons that hardly need to be listed. What we donâ€™t appreciate is that in the mind of Semitic people, the word â€œhateâ€ does not necessarily carry the obvious idea of â€œactively wishing for destruction or punishment.â€ Look, for example, at the story of Jacobâ€™s two wives:
Genesis 29:30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. 31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.
Matthewâ€™s version of this same Luke 14 passage uses language that he understood to mean the same thing:
Matthew 10:34 â€œDo not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come t to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Jesus closes this section of Luke 14 with a clear summation of what he wants all his followers to hear: Luke 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Where does all of this come out for a Jesus shaped spirituality?
We fail to appreciate how much family defined a personâ€™s identity, security, significance, future and every other aspect of life. The early Christians were faced with many kinds of sacrifice and conflict, but none were as close to the center of life as family. To be disowned by family– which is exactly what many first century Christians faced– was to lose everything that held life and future together. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus spoke about this without nuance or exception: The Kingdom of God means the renouncing of family.
But in what way?
Here I think the rest of scripture gives us lots of help. For example, Paulâ€™s letters have much to say on family life. Family is a major reflection of oneâ€™s commitment to Christ and understanding of God. Paul even encourages Christian women to remain married to pagan husbands! Obviously, Christians are not hating their spouses and families in Ephesians 5. The Lordship of Christ is lived out in families.
But the Gospels are speaking to a different kind of family relation. Your enemies will be your own family. Even your own parents and children. And, of course, the great temptation will be to say â€œGod would never– ever– want me to do anything that displeases my parents or that angers my family. I owe them complete loyalty.â€
Jesus is plain: No. The Kingdom of God is your true family. The choice is plain. There is no place to waver. Renounce family IF that is what is necessary to follow Jesus and enter the Kingdom. Renounce any and every normal human activity and normal human relationship if that is what stands between you and the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom will reveal a true and greater family and a true and greater security and reward.
In fact– and here is another post for another day– Jesus says that if your life gets in the way, then renounce your life. Just think about all that Jesus is saying in that simple sentence. It’s a lifetime of discipleship.
This year I had the privilege to see a young man from India come to faith in Christ. We were all delighted when he asked for baptism. But almost as soon as he made that profession of faith, he began asking about his loyalty to his Hindu family. They had arranged a marriage. What should he do? His conversion would humiliate his family. Should he keep it a secret? Even his ancestors came into the picture. He did not want to dishonor them by his Christian profession.
To this young man, and to many internationals that I have ministered to over the years, I have nothing more to say than what Jesus has said. I cannot soften it. I cannot spin it. It is hard. And it is the Kingdom of God in this world.
To trade family for the rag-tag company of the church seems insane. To give up all things for Christ is worth everything we sacrifice and more. If our family is supportive, we are blessed. Let us love them best by loving Christ most. If family says we cannot follow Christ, then we renounce family, and take Christ at his word that we will be repaid a hundred times now and in eternity.
If you understand Jesus’ words and their meaning for today, I pray it challenges you to see the importance of Christian community as a family of relationships of people who help one another along what can be a very difficult and painful road of separation from family and culture.