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Now how I would have put it!

Luke 14:25-33

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni


Sep. 8, 2019

In 1934, Leon Shimkin, a publisher with Simon and Schuster, decided to take a 14-week self-improvement course.  He was so taken by the course and the content that he convinced the leader of the course to have a stenographer record notes of his presentations so a book could be made out of his content. 

The leader, a Mr. Dale Carnegie, agreed and in 1936 the first edition of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was published.

It was an immediate success. It went through seventeen printings in the first year alone. To this day it still sells more than 100,000 copies a year. Time Magazine has named it one of the 100 most influential nonfiction books ever written.

Sometimes I get the distinct feeling that Jesus could have benefitted greatly from reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  Sometimes I hear the words of Jesus and think, “You know I wouldn’t have put it quite that way.”  

Sometimes I even hear the words of Jesus and think, “You know, I’m not sure I would have said that at all.”  Yet there it is, right in from of us:  

 Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

What are we to make of this?  If these are the requirements of being a disciple then who among us can meet them?  And doesn’t this run contradictory to other commands of God and other teachings of Jesus? What about what we lovingly call the Summary of the Law?

 Hear the word of God to all who would truly turn to him:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, “You shall love your neighbor as your self.  On these two commands hang all the Law and the prophets.

Love God, love our neighbors as well love ourselves.  Hate our families and even our own lives.  Something’s gotta give.

I suggest that while Jesus may have never read Mr. Carnegie’s book, he was well versed in rhetoric.  

Given all that we know and believe about Jesus, I think it is fair and faithful to read these words as rhetorical rather than as requirements.  

I think we have a subtle hint that allows us to do so in today’s reading. The call to hate others and ourselves is so striking that we probably missed a very important phrase in this passage.  It is from the first sentence.  We are told, “Now large crowds were traveling with him [that is Jesus]; and he turned and said to them….”

Let me unpack this introduction a bit.  First, we hear of large crowds.  In the Gospels large crowds are never really a good thing.  They always represent those who either do not understand Jesus, don’t care to understand Jesus, are seeking Jesus for their own benefit, or a combination of any or all of those unfortunate types.

Second, the large crows were traveling with Jesus.  Traveling with Jesus is not the same as following Jesus. These were folk who were hangers-on, people who were curious, maybe; interested, somewhat; but committed? Hardly.

Then we are told Jesus turned to speak to them.  That may seem inconsequential but it isn’t.  In the Gospel of Luke this word translated as turned is used seven times.  Each time it is our Lord who turns and six of the seven usages mark Jesus’ actions just before he spoke words of correction or rebuke.  Interestingly the only time in Luke that Jesus turns and does not speak is when he turned and looked at Peter after Peter’s denial that he even knew Jesus.  

It is clear that in Luke when we are told “Jesus turned,” what follows is either an emphatic pronouncement or action.

Given these three pieces of insight I think we can safely and faithfully read Jesus’s call to hatred of family as a rhetorical use of hyperbole.  In other words, Jesus was not calling us to hate anyone or anything.  Instead he was using a striking and strident pronouncement to make a clear point:  true discipleship is costly, very costly.

We can understand Jesus’ strident words, perhaps even his mood that prompted them, when we understand the context of when and where he said these words.  

Way back in the ninth chapter of Luke, some five chapters previous to this chapter, way back in June, we heard these words:  When the days drew near for him [that is Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

This morning Jesus is still on that same journey.  He wasn’t simply going to the market or a seaside resort.  He was going to Jerusalem.  He wasn’t going to Jerusalem for a vacation, or even a retreat, or to worship.  

He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified, buried, resurrected and to ascend into heaven.  Is it any wonder Jesus would speak so stridently when he finds himself surrounded by passersby, and hangers-on?

Perhaps the better and more faithful question for us this morning is not what Jesus meant by the word hate but whether we would be the type of people that Jesus would so emphatically have to explain what the cost of discipleship is.

© 2019, Tom Thoeni

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