One of the most difficult of Jesus’s teachings.
I guess I would like to start out by saying that Jesus is employing a form of speaking called hyperbole. This is a fifty cent word that means he is making his point by overstating his point.
Jesus does the same elsewhere when he says “If you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Jesus does not mean that we should gouge out our eyes. He does mean, that we are done playing games. If we are addicted to alcohol or drugs or gambling or pornography, we don’t sit around saying stupid things like, “I can quit any time I want, I’m just not ready yet, and I am the one who has to say when I am ready.” No you’re not. God is the one who says when you are ready and God says you’re ready right now.” or, “I wouldn’t drink so much if it weren’t for her or him nagging all the time.” No. We check our egos at the door. We get into a program, and we work the program. If the program isn’t right for us, we either suck it in or find another program. If we fall off the wagon, that’s too bad. It happens. Get back on the wagon. Done playing games.
Same thing with society. If we see evil in society, we don’t just sit there yelling at the television. We choose what we’re called to address, then we get up and do something about it. Human trafficking, for example, people being used as sex slaves right here in good ole’ Louisville Kentucky. Women of the ELCA will be engaging this issue on their retreat in October. Stay tuned. We’re going to hear more about what we can do.
People with disabilities are taking a greater role in society. That’s a good thing. Our youth are a part of it. September 24, they are helping with Downs Syndrome Louisville walk. Stay tuned.
Done playing games.
In the same way, Jesus is not calling us to scream, purple faced at our brothers or sisters or children or parents, appealing as that idea might be upon occasion. Jesus is not calling us to hate. He is, however, pointing out God is more important than our possessions. God is more important than we are. God is more important than our families.
Thiws passage takes place on Jesu’s journey to Jerusalem. Large crowds are following Jesus. They think this is the way to success. They are going to get in on the ground floor of a major company. It’s going to be easy street from now on.
Jesus wants to make sure everybody understands that this is not easy street. He knows he is going to be executed as a revolutionary. Everyone associated with him is going to be in danger too. You know what Romans did to revolutionaries. They crucified them.
In Jesus’ day, being a Christian did not make your family look good. It made your family look bad. Your brother would lose business in the village because you ate dinner with a Samaritan. People would throw rocks at your house, maybe hit your niece or nephew because you had sheltered a refugee from the wrong country.
Being a Christian was dangerous then. It is dangerous now in some countries. And for us, I need to let you know that for us it is not easy street either. It’s a blessed street, but not easy.
There will come a time, sooner or later, when going to have to do things that make our parents or our children really mad. We will have to do them, not to assert our own autonomy or independence, to show somebody “you can’t tell me what to do,” nor to assert our own authority, to let everybody know who’s boss. But rather we will have to do them as a part of Jesus’ love at work in the world.
We live in a crazy, mixed up world. Our eyes are dim and our reality is distorted. So what we do out of Jesus’ love for people, might make our families angry.
There will come a time when we are required by the love of Christ, who cherishes us and all people, to give up ourselves. It’s going to feel like we are dying. If we are climbing out of addiction there will be days when we will feel like we are going to die if we don’t get that drink. Getting out of an abusive relationship, there are days when we feel so bad, we think we are going to die without that partner, even though they used to beat us or scream at us all the time, because sometimes that person was nice. We think we will die without that little bit of niceness.
There will come times on the job when we have to say no to a customer or client, or to our boss, for the sake of integrity. We may have to say “no” to a co-worker for the purpose of doing a good job. We might look bad to our co-workers. We might lose our job.
This is the journey of the cross. These choices do not come all the time. For some people they come more often than for others; for some people, they come more intensely than for others. For all of us, at some point or another, it will happen at some point or other. Not all the time.
What does happen all the time on the journey of the cross is this: We always give up our families, every day, so that we can receive them back, not as our family, but as God’s family.
We constantly give up ourselves, our inner being, every day, in order to receive ourselves back not as ourselves, but as emissaries of God’s hope and God’s life in the world.
We constantly give up our possessions, our food, our shelter, our safety, our security, so that we receive our possessions back again, not as our possessions any more, but as God’s possessions, tools we use to bless people and creation, and to celebrate life.
In our second lesson for today, Paul asks Philemon and Onesimus to walk the journey of the cross. The book of Philemon was used for centuries as a justification for slavery, because Paul sends a slave, Onesimus, back to his master, Philemon. Slave masters said that this proved slavery to be okay.
Nowadays, some people say that the book of Philemon should be thrown out because it does not explicitly condemn slavery, indeed, that the whole the Bible should be thrown out, because it fails to condemn slavery; fails to condemn spouse abuse and genocide and so on. They say we need a more enlightened guide.
I wonder what people will say about us in two hundred years. Because there are plenty of things happening now that are just as bad as slavery, that we don’t see, quite. That we don’t condemn. Our eyes are blurry, our reality distorted.
So is Paul’s. He does not support slavery. He does not condemn slavery. He insists that Philemon and Onesimus take the next step on their journey of the cross. Philemon must accept Onesimus, no longer as a slave, cowering and subservient. Philemon must give up his privilege, his illusion of superiority, his money—Onesimus was valuable as a slave—and meet him as a human being, a man, a brother. Paul also insists that Onesimus return to Philemon and regard Philemon not as a master, dominating and overpowering. Onesimus must even risk his safety in returning, because in Roman society, an escaped slave can be killed if recaptured. , but as a human being, a brother. Why? Because that is what they are in the eyes of God, no matter what society says. Paul insists that both men take a step on the journey of the cross.
So, now, the question comes to us, as we give up our families to receive them back not as our families but as God’s family, as we give go of ourselves to receive them back as not ourselves, but as emissaries of God’s life, we give up our possessions to receive them back as God’s possessions: what is the next step on the journey of the cross for us?