Synopsis: Christ is our real name. It is our eternal name. It is the name we should love the most. When we love our family, religious, gender, racial, or political name more, we separate ourselves from the Body of Christ.
Scripture: Luke 14:25-33
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Imagine that I suddenly became a very popular preacher and a huge crowd of people just walked into this church all wanting to become Christians and join this church. You’d all be thrilled, wouldn’t you?
Now, imagine if I would say to them, “Before you all decide to join us, you should know the membership requirements. You must hate your family, and your life, and be willing to face an agonizing death.”
You probably wouldn’t be too happy with me for that less-than-encouraging “welcome” speech. Most if not all of them would most likely turn around and walk right out the door. But that’s essentially the speech Jesus gave the crowd in our scripture reading for today.
A large crowd was following Jesus because was a very popular preacher. People held high expectations of him – mostly political ones. Maybe they wanted to fight in the revolt they thought he was starting. Maybe they wanted to be a member of the court they thought he would establish as king. Or maybe they were just groupies who wanted to get to know the famous guy.
Jesus knew that most of them were following him for all the wrong reasons. So, he decided to use his powerful way with words to smack them all upside the head.
I’m sure he got their attention. Hearing his words two thousand years ago, the crowd would have been like, “What? Wait a minute … didn’t the prophet Malachi write that the Messiah ‘will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents …?’ And reading them today, we might be like, “What? Didn’t Jesus tell us to love one another – even our enemies?”
The problem with us understanding this passage is with the word “hate.” If your favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate, and someone buys you a vanilla ice cream cone, chances are you’ll eat it. You’d say, “Thanks!” and you’d enjoy it, but not as much as you would have enjoyed a chocolate ice cream cone.
But if you were from Biblical times, you might say, “I love chocolate, but I hate vanilla. Then, you’d start chowing down on the vanilla cone because it’s not that you despise vanilla. It’s just not your favorite. That’s how the word “hate” is used in the Bible.
For example, in Genesis chapter 29, there is the story of Jacob, Rachel, and LAY-ah. Jacob was in love with Rachel, but on his wedding night, Laban tricked him into sleeping with his eldest daughter, LAY-ah. Eventually, Rachel became Jacob’s second wife.
In verses 31, the Lord opened LAY-ah’s womb and left Rachel barren because “the Lord saw that LAY-ah was unloved.” After naming Jacob’s first son Reuben (“behold a son”), LAY-ah said in verse 32, “because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” After naming her second son Simeon (“listening”), LAY-ah said in verse 33, “because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.”
So, in this passage, as in other passages in the Bible that use the word “hate,” its meaning is really “to love less.” So, we can translate “Jacob hated LAY-ah but loved Rachel” to mean “Jacob loved Rachel more than LAY-ah.” We can confidently say that Jacob didn’t despise LAY-ah. If he did, we doubt she would have given birth to his six sons and one daughter.
Jesus is telling the crowd that anyone who loves their family more is not worthy to be his disciple. To understand the full impact of Jesus’ words, we need to understand the role of family in Jewish culture.
In Jesus’ time and culture and in many eastern cultures even to this day, the people exist as a collective unit. They don’t see themselves as individuals. They see themselves as part of an extended family, or clan, and their fate is entirely dependent on the fate of their clan. Their lives revolve around their clan. Their clan is essentially their lifeline.
In these cultures, to shame your family would cost you dearly. It could cause you to be disowned by your immediate family and expelled from your clan. You would then be cut off from any support, which would make life very difficult. It’s doubtful that another clan would even take you in because of the shame you carry with you.
We Americans are strongly individualistic – and capitalist. In our society, industry has taken over much of the support extended families once provided, so it’s not unusual for Americans to shame or even shun their families.
When we introduce ourselves, we typically use our first and last name, but next comes our occupation. In fact, the first question people typically ask us after we tell them our name is, “So – what do you do for a living?”
American identity tends to be wrapped around work more than the family name. Most people identify more with their occupations and businesses, so they don’t worry as much about shaming their families as shaming their employers or shareholders.
So, as Americans, if we’re having a hard time feeling the full impact of Jesus’ words here, imagine him saying, “He who comes to me and does not hate his paycheck, his pension, his profits, his investments, his 401K; yes, and even his retirement plans, is not fit to be my disciple.”
As a Jew, Jesus probably introduced himself by saying, “I am Jeshua bar Joseph of the tribe of Judah.” Whatever Jesus did was a reflection not only on him but also on his parents and on his entire tribe. His honor equaled their honor; his shame – their shame.
Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, and everyone knew that the Messiah was prophesied to come from the tribe of Judah. Everyone from that tribe, including some of the members of Jesus’ immediate family, expected Jesus to glorify them.
But it wasn’t Jesus’ mission to glorify the tribe of Judah. It was his mission to glorify God. Now, we can clearly see that Jesus didn’t despise his family, but that he did “hate” them in a biblical sense by not loving the name of Judah more than the name of Christ.
He expects the same level of commitment from his disciples.
The name of Christ is our real name. It is our eternal name. Our family name and other names we carry such as our religious name, gender name, racial or cultural name, and political name, stick to us for only as long as we walk the earth in this life, and in the context of eternity, that’s the blink of an eye.
If we love any of these worldly names more than the name of Christ, then we’re not following the Lord, and sooner or later, that truth will be made painfully obvious.
Jesus gives the example of a man who proposed to build a tower, but he never counted the cost, so his tower remained unfinished. Rather than bringing him glory, the unfinished tower brings him nothing but shame, a perpetual monument to wasted time and money.
That example was directed toward the people who were following him for fame and fortune. Those who follow the Lord to bring glory and honor to their own name end up ruined and ridiculed.
Jesus gives us another example of a king who goes to war against another king, without calculating whether he has the manpower to win. Because he was sorely outnumbered, he had to surrender, placing himself and his people entirely at the enemy’s mercy because of his foolishness.
That example was directed toward the people who were following him for political power. Those who follow the Lord for political power end up enslaved by our worst enemy, the human ego, and anyone who follow them marches right into slavery with them.
Our scripture reading ends with Jesus saying, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Most people will interpret this verse literally, that we must give up all our material possession to be the Lord’s disciple. But given the context of the passage, I think he’s taking aim at something bigger than just our material “stuff.”
I think he’s taking aim at our psychological stuff. The names we cling to. Our identity baggage. We need to let go of these “possessions” to be joined with Christ.
What does this scripture reading have to say to us today? Well, we can certainly relate. Since the advent of the Christian church, families have been torn apart because someone chose to love the name of Christ more than their religious name.
In her book Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg tells the story of enjoying a lovely dinner with Christian friends who lived in Jerusalem. They had invited another guest to dinner – a man who was active in their congregation and who looked obviously Jewish.
Lois said to the man, “So, what did your family say when you told them you had become a Christian?” An awkward silence followed, and her friend changed the subject. Later her friend explained that when he told his parents about his faith in Christ, his father “sat shiva” for seven days. This is the ritual Jewish people observe to mourn the death of a loved one. As far as his father was concerned, his son was dead.
The same religious name attachment happens within the Christian faith. I remember Tabatha telling me a story about her childhood. She started attending an after-school church youth group with a friend of hers. Soon, the minister was knocking on the door of her house and asking her parents to join their church.
Now, Tabatha’s parents never went to church, but this incident scared her father so much that he started faithfully taking Tabatha to church – but to the Catholic church – because as far as he was concerned, his family was Catholic, doggonit. God forbid his daughter become a Baptist.
When we love our religious name more than we love the name of Christ, we are not fit to be the Lord’s disciples. But there are many people out there today who do not have a religious name because they are not religious people. There’s no problem with them, right?
Well, I wish religious names were the only names people love more than the name of Christ, but people also love their racial name, and their gender name, and their sexual orientation name, and their political name, and I could go on and on and on.
It’s not that the Lord is excluding these people. Truly, every human being is the Christ wearing a human costume. But when we love other names more, we exclude ourselves. This wrong attitude separates us from the body of Christ. We separate ourselves from love, and that leads us into the enemy’s territory.
It’s a terrible consequence. Many families have been torn apart when a family member loves the name of Christ more than any other name the family holds dear. Any name more beloved than the name of Christ will destroy family unity. It takes the fabric of family unity and tears it into pieces.
At that point, love is gone and animosity takes its place.
Perhaps now, the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34-39 are clear: He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
“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; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Names tear the fabric of any unity into pieces. It not only tears into pieces the fabric of a family. It also tears the fabric of a community. The fabric of a nation. The fabric of a world. Jesus came to heal the illusion of separation these names create. He came to remind us of the true name we all share.
Certainly, names are not fundamentally bad. We need them to a certain extent to organize our lives as human beings. The problem is when we love them more than our true name. When we let them tell us who we are instead of letting God tell us who we are.
Jesus was headed for the cross. He was willing to pay a terrible price for the Name of Christ. He wanted the people following him to be fully aware that they would have to carry a cross too. At the top of Jesus’ cross, the soldiers nailed a name: King of the Jews. This was the name Jesus hated, this was the life Jesus hated, and he was willing to face an agonizing death to glorify his True Name.
Thankfully, chances are that we won’t have to face the kind of agonizing physical death Jesus faced, but we must be willing to face a psychological death. Depending on how much we love our other names, it might be agonizing. We can see the agony in the eyes of those who are desperately clinging to their beloved names and defending them at all costs.
We can have compassion for them in their suffering but also gratitude that we are saved from this torment. We have the peace of the Lord because we are willing for the glory of our True Name to nail all our other names at the top of our cross and die to those names.
Let’s pray together:
Lord, we love the name of Christ more than any other name, and we are willing to die to any other name. Give us the courage to stand for the name of Christ in these times and compassion for those who are suffering. AMEN.
Brown, Jeannine K. “Commentary on Luke 14:25-33.” Workingpreacher.org, 5 Sept. 2010, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-23-3/commentary-on-luke-1425-33
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “49. How to Hate Your Wife (Luke 14:25-35).” Bible.org, 24 Jun. 2004, bible.org/seriespage/49-how-hate-your-wife-luke-1425-35
McLarty, Phillip W. “Sermon| Luke 14:25-33| How Much Are You Willing to Give?” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-1425-33-how-much-are-you-willing-to-give-mclarty/
Leininger, David E. “The Danger of Discipleship.” Sermonwriter.com. sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-1425-33-the-danger-of-discipleship-leininger/