The words of Jesus are harsh, maybe too harsh for our ears to hear. Family is so central to what we are in life. What politician doesn’t carry the banner of being pro-family? Any organization seeking new members wants to be seen as supportive of family and uses family events as part of their recruitment efforts. Family Values may be a rallying cry but families do struggle trying to hold all things together. The addiction to screen time on the phone takes away family attentiveness to each other. Sports teams and other activities pull families in different directions trying to keep up with loyalty demands. Now Jesus is talking about hating family…hating life…the need to take up our cross to be his disciple…sell all possessions to be his disciple.
Jesus is inviting one and all to sit down and sort through the demands of discipleship. He is asking us to weigh the consequences of choosing a different way of life that he is modeling for us. The current way of life is consumed with possessions. We possess the things we purchase. We think we can possess people by seeking to control spouse, children, parents, etc. Life is something we assume that can be owned. In the end, we are possessed by things we think we control. This we call life. However, Jesus is telling us to give up possessions.
Jesus is inviting us to a different way of life called discipleship. Jesus is personally on his way to Jerusalem where he will find a cross in his future. The cross meant death for him in this world’s terms but to the glory of the Father, Jesus was raised to life in God’s terms. Jesus is telling us we must also take up the cross if we are to find life in God’s terms as well.
Will this cause a scowl as the phone is put down? Absolutely. Will there be division in the family over priorities? Of course. Is the coach going to be angry? You bet. Are you going to reconsider job and career goals? Very likely. Are you going to examine how you participate and support the ways that bring about injustice or violence to others or creation? For sure. How about ‘hating’ the ways of this world to know life as God gives — this is the cost that must be considered.
Jesus’ words are harsh to hear regarding the cost of discipleship. Yet to take up the cross is to discover family and life in a whole new way — God’s terms. For this, we must all weigh the cost.
Peace. We all want peace. We want peace in our family relationships. We want peace within our neighborhoods and towns. We want to peaceably go about our lives without the worry of violence. We want Jesus to give us the peace we seek. Unfortunately for us, this peace is not what Jesus is talking about in this reading. Instead he is talking about division, even in our most valued relationships of family.
So what gives? Why can’t we have what we want? Why won’t Jesus give us what we want? Jesus said he came to bring division instead of peace. He wanted to bring fire upon the earth and couldn’t wait for it to be lit. This doesn’t sound much like peace. The fire is the active presence of God establishing the kingdom’s presence over everyone. When God’s rule of forgiveness and mercy comes into contact with our understanding of peace, we start building crosses.
The trouble with wanting peace is that we want peace on our terms. We want peace that comes with being in control. We want peace where we have the power. We want the peace that prefers us over them. If we don’t get the peace we want, we blame our spouses, parents, neighbors, immigrants, those of a different race, the other political party. In reality this isn’t peace, it is abuse and violence of the powerful against the weak. This is not the peace that Jesus has come to support.
If we seek peace then we have two choices. One is the fake peace of violence, abuse and crosses. The other is the peace that comes from God who raised the crucified Jesus to life. This is the real peace that brings life in the place of death. This kind of peace asks of us to repent and seek the ways of the kingdom of God. We die to the old ways of violence and crosses so God can bring a new life that is peace. This change is going to be met with division, even within family.
Jesus called those in attendance a bunch of hypocrites. They could tell by the wind patterns if it was going to rain or bring a hot day. Yet, they could see what Jesus was doing and teaching but not recognize the action of God bringing his rule, his kingdom to the earth. The great challenge for us is to look at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and see the work of God bringing his kingdom to us. This is the hard work of seeking peace on God’s terms.
Everyone who has grown up with siblings can relate to this text. Within each family there seems to always be the wild child. The one knowing how to wrap mom and dad around their little finger. The one the rest of the family seems the need to keep and eye on. Then there is the one never getting into trouble and continuing to whisper under their breath, “mom and dad always like them best.” This brings us to the reading above. We call it the parable of the prodigal son but it is really about the incredible love of a parent for a couple of children refusing to understand how good they have it.
In the parable the younger son declares his independence and wants his inheritance now. To him, his father is as good as dead. The inheritance is quickly spent. The son returns with a plan to be allowed back at least as a common worker. The father instead receives him back fully as a son and throws a big party.
The older son refuses to attend the party for ‘his father’s son.’ He despises his father’s love for that son who wasted the inheritance on prostitutes. He sees his life lived under his father as servitude and drudgery. His father never even held a party for him and his friends though he likely never asked for one. He refuses to attend the party for the safe return of his father’s son. What is a parent to do?
Family fights are so horribly painful. We know each other’s weaknesses. A parent knows the hurt of being caught in the middle. What is a parent to do but love each child unconditionally?
The father in the story is God. The party is a restorative feast to bring us one and all together again under his love. However we are too busy manipulating, fighting, calling out each other’s sins, acting out in resentment, treating God as though dead, despising God for being merciful and so on. We are some nasty kids at times.
Yet, we are still loved. There is a party to celebrate our restoration as one under his love for us all. If we only understood just how good we have it.