One of the hardest things for me about following the lectionary, is that we get these periscopes with no context. It’s like when people quote snippets of passages or pithy one-liners to make a point, because it backs up what they believe – without providing the context – or worse not even looking at it, to see whether or not what they are trying to say even makes sense.
Tonight’s reading is a little bit like that for us.
I mean, what are we supposed to do with it? Really Jesus? Hate my mother and father, my siblings and children? AND sell of my possessions? Listen Jesus, you are not really selling this for me.
Because who wants to do that? And to what end? And also, I think terrible things have been done to people in Jesus name because we were trying to follow Jesus. Things that disregarded the personhood of others or the sanctity of relationships, or the importance of paying attention to each other, all in the name of holding tight to a version of teaching that was more harmful that good.
That is what I think this reading tonight has the potential to do, if we aren’t careful with it.
The whole of the Gospels contains (as I read them), teachings that are based on love – love of neighbour, love for self and love for God and that is what compels me to be here in this community and in this faith.
Caring for one another and showing up and generally inviting all of the ‘wrong’ people is what Jesus does over and over again – as Nadia Bolz-Webber often reminds us.
So what do we do with this tonight?
Well, I think we start at the beginning of this chapter. What is the context that Jesus is speaking into?
Chapter 14 begins with Jesus sitting down to a meal at the house of a Pharisee and speaking to them about whether or not it’s lawful to heal people on the sabbath and providing all kinds of examples for why one might do this.
Then he moves on to talking about seating arrangements at a banquet and why you shouldn’t choose the most distinguished place for yourself.
Then a story about a man who throws a dinner party but the guests all come up with lame excuses about why they can’t come, so he tells his slave to go out and to invite all the people who would not normally be invited to such a party – my bible says: the blind and the lame, people who we know would not have been included because they were outcasts in society.
‘For I tell you’, the man says, ‘none who were invited will taste my dinner.”
This party is no longer for them. It is no longer for the expected guests. It is for the people we didn’t know we needed to invite.
And this is where we begin with our reading tonight.
With Jesus speaking to a large crowd, presumably still at the dinner party of the Pharisee, now telling them what carrying the cross looks like. Likening what he is asking of us, to preparing to build a tower and ensuring that you do the foundation work, or a king who is preparing for battle who needs to make sure he has what he needs in order to fight or ask for peace.
There is a line in tonight’s Gospel that has me particularly wanting to pay attention to it. It’s the last line: Luke ends tonight’s reading with Jesus saying, ‘So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’
Now it’s possible that what Jesus means here is your physical possessions: your stuff. He might mean that. And we could absolutely have a conversation about our attachment to things and that could be a good conversation to have. We have an issue with attachment to things in our society, I have an issue with attachment to things, but I am not convinced that this is what Jesus is talking about here.
If you look at the context that Luke is putting these lines into, you might begin to wonder, what else do we possess besides things?
I would argue that we also possess our thoughts, our assumptions, the ways in which we judge one another, the ways in which we set up or structure our society, our communities, our families.
The ways that we learn to be from our families of origin.
Things we learn about who is more important, who deserves seats of honor, who deserves to be healed and when, who we should and should not invite to dinner parties.
Those things, those ways of seeing each other and the ways that we relate to each other are also our possessions. They are ours, they live in us, we own them, whether we recognize that or not. And we can choose what we do with them.
And what I think is that Jesus is saying to us and to the people at the dinner with him in some Pharisees house, is that you can’t bring any of that with you if you are going to follow him.
Taking up your cross also means letting go of your assumptions about how we organize ourselves if those assumptions mean that we leave out the most vulnerable or take the best places for ourselves or don’t work for healing for each other, even on our days off.
And Jesus wants us to know what is expected of us, wants to provide us with the foundation of what is expected going in.
He wants us to know what we are getting ourselves into.
There is a Jesuit teaching that I have been exploring lately about disordered attachments. And I think that maybe this comes close to what Jesus is talking about here. Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest speaks about it briefly in an article where he writes:
St. Ignatius Loyola often used to talk about “disordered attachments,” those things we are so attached to that they keep us from God. It could be a desire for popularity or a love of money or an obsession with perfect health. Or maybe it’s something even darker, like an unhealthy relationship that keeps you from freedom.
Another way of looking at this is as an entanglement. When Jesus first calls the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, the Gospels say the fishermen “dropped their nets,” to follow him. Those nets are a great emblem for all that keeps us entangled in life.
I have been working on letting go of those things that I carry around in me that keep me from fully seeing the people in front of me – those things that are wrapped up in my own biases, or imposter syndrome – in my belief that I don’t belong or am not worthy – or that someone else doesn’t belong or is unworthy. Those things that I learned growing up about who is clean and who is unclean – or how I ‘should’ see certain people or judge them based on gender or culture or income or any number of other ways that we insist on filing one another.
Maybe we can see possessions, as they are spoken about here and attachments or entanglements, as they are named by the Jesuits as the same thing for the purposes of our thinking tonight.
Those things that keep us from God, the God who often shows up for us in one another, in relationship, in our care for one another and most often in the unexpected.
I’ll be honest, I still don’t know what to do with the command to ‘hate’ your father and mother, wife or children – expect to put it into the context of disordered attachment. That if those relationships or the lens through which I see the world and the people around me, which I have inherited from those relationships, inhibits my relationship with God. If those relationships or that way of being stop me from loving my neighbour, or working towards healing, then I might need to give them up.
I cannot possess a way of being that ensures that I see anyone as less than me and still follow Jesus.
And that is the hard work of carrying the cross. Taking a look at who I am and how I behave, at what I have learned about how to be and taking on a new way, that is hard work.
And it is why we need each other.
It is why we need community it is why we need to come here to think together about what the Gospel means for us and how we are going to live our faith out.
Because Jesus’s teachings are demanding and living them out can feel complicated.
We want to take up our cross and follow and we don’t always know that that should look like, or we do and we need a community to do it with.
We need one another to help us re-order our priorities and to remind us what and who we are called to be. We need to practice here how we want to be in the world and remember the love is where we begin and then work our way up from there.