Interventions: Jesus and the New Family (Pt 2)

This is my reflections on Luke 14:25-35 from September 20th, 2009 and is in two parts, both work independently from one another. Part one has been published here.

It was originally titled: Interventions: Discipleship and the Disavowal of all that Obstructs

This part about hating families is at least for me, the most troubling part of the what Jesus says here. This hating business isn’t something that sits well with my 2009 sensibilities: It doesn’t sound very PC Jesus!

How many of you have scratched your heads at this passage before?

What have been some of the ways you’ve thought about it?

It seems to me that this passage on family is very important for understanding this broader call of discipleship and the decisive break that it entails.

There are plenty of ways in which what I believe and what I practice create tension within my own family, and I am sure that you have experienced many of these difficulties as well.

In discipleship with Jesus there will always be a disavowal, often many disavowals.

One meaning of Disavowal is to deny any responsibility or support for something else. It’s a denial of allegiance, it’s a matter of breaking loyalty, or experiencing as I said above, a breach.

Jesus knew, and even experienced in the Gospels, the fact that family networks and possessions can often obstruct our discipleship to Christ.

Joel Green writes:

“Particularly in Jesus’ story of the great banquet 14:15-24, he had introduced the possibility that one’s ties to possessions and family mght disqualify one from enjoying the feast. As Jesus turns to address the crowds traveling with him, he lists allegiance to one’s family network and the shackles that constitute one’s possessions as impediments to authentic discipleship.” 564

But ultimately, if we can move beyond this idea of the fricition follow Jesus creates in our lives, what he is getting at here is not just disagreements that may call our faith and callings into question, here he breathes into existence a entirely new family rooted where God alone is father.

This passage is about exiting one family and joining that new family. But this new family requires a disavowal of the old.

In Jesus’ time, as in our own, a “high cultural value [that was] placed on family network:”

“In this context, “hate” is not primarily an affective quality but a disavowal of primary allegiance to one’s kin. In a way consistent with other teaching in Luke, then, Jesus underscores how discipleship relativizes one’s normal and highly valued loyalities to normal family and other social ties.” (Green)

These family networks, these possessions, even, as with the legal experts, the pharisees and the saducess, our “right beliefs” will mean noting before God. What matters is one’s life and the fruit they produce in complete loyalty to Jesus’ and the reign of God.

In Jesus’ command to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,” there is an utterance that breathes into existence a new family, one that is not bound by blood, protection, patriarchalism, or possessions, but one that is completely voluntary, rooted in practices of the kingdom of God like hospitality and generosity, and marked by love for enemies. This is truly a love without measure.

He was thus replacing patriarchialism, there are now no fathers “with paternity under God.” There is now only one father, the One in heaven who we call abba. The one who we pray to when we say, “Our father in the heavens…” (Ryan Bolger)

This call would have no doubt been rather challenging in such a patriarchical and hierachical culture as 1st cenury AD. Jesus “called his disciples out of patriarchial backgrounds and introduced a “more collegial grouping that would challenge the empire and its way of thinking” (Bolger, 59). He was thus replacing patriarchialism, there are now no fathers “with paternity under God.” There is now only one father, the One in heaven who we call abba. The one who we pray to when we say, “Our father in the heavens…”

In the same way that “Jesus’ ‘followers are not to take titles…are to maintain domination-free relationships in a disciple of equals that includes women. They must do away with the hierarchical of master and slave, teacher and student'” (Bolger).

So in the renouncing of familial ties and possessions, Jesus saying these things are invalid but was “redrawing them, redefining them in order to create ‘something new out of the old.”‘ (Bolger). He redrew these lines and is now head of the table; as the Quaker mantra goes: “it is Christ himself who has come to lead us and teach us.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“But the same Mediator who makes us individuals is also the founder of a new fellowship. He stands in the centre between my neighbour and myself. He divides, but he also unites. Thus although the direct way to our neighbour is barred, we now find the new and only real way to him – the way which passes through the Mediator.”

This new fellowship, the new family of God is voluntary but those who volunteered, volunteered for a new life that requires a new lifestyle. “Jesus formed a comunity under God as opposed to existing authority structures; this new family would bring forth the kingdom of God.”

Not everyone followed Jesus to Jerusalem and lived his nomadic life but we shouldn’t be distracted by that fact. Some stayed home, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t also follow him where they lived.

Gerhard Lohfink writes:

The majority remained with their families. But the families of those who remained home were transformed. They became more disposable, more open. They no longer revolved merely around themselves. They offered hospitality to Jesus and his messengers. They entered relationships with one another. Or, in contrast to this, just the opposite happened. Families divided within themselves. Jesus and his movement became a sign of contradiction. Many individuals separated themselves from the old structures and joined the new family of which Jesus spoke. Thus there arose in the midst of ancient Israel – unobtrusively at first and yet irreversibly – the new society planned by God. (44).

Ultimately, this call for a costly discipleship, one that really challenges our loyalties, our allegiances is a call to the Disavowal of all that Obstructs. It is also a call to join a new family, a new people, the people of God who live out a constrast-society, where we may even be joined again by those in our family. But let’s also remember that in our day family may or may not hold powerful influence over us, there are many allegiances we do have that we place all our loyalty in.

Queries:

  • What does it look like for us to live as this new family?
  • What is our response to Jesus’ words this morning?
  • What are the things Jesus would call us to disavow in our time?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

3 thoughts on “Interventions: Jesus and the New Family (Pt 2)”

    1. John,
      Is there something you suggest for giving credit to photos beyond linking back to their originating flickr site?
      I was under the assumption that this was what was most typical? How do you do it?

      Wess

  1. An interesting interpretation, particularly the bits about how the new Christian family undermines patriarchy. I cannot help but notice that it still does not qualify as a gynocentric perspective. The realities, perspectives, requirements and relationships of childbearing women seem all but ignored. I also wonder about the historical context of these early writings. Primitive Christians existed in eschatological expectation that we cannot reconstruct. This necessarily limits our understanding of their perspective and intention. I think I tend to agree with Schweitzer that there are dangers in attributing modern values and concerns to first and second century Christians.

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