“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.”
Have you ever heard a “I hate you” coming from a family member? From a sibling, a spouse, a child? Or maybe it’s you who said it to them? Hatred inside a family is a special kind of hurt, isn’t it? The hatred from people we love / with people we should love. Family seems to be the place where you expect the more acceptance / nurturing / gratitude and then terrible rejection happens, suddenly or over the years…And we know that, sadly, it’s not unusual.
– Yet if we think about it a little more deeply, we’ll notice that unless addictions take over every positive emotion, hatred (or at least tough words) in families happens in a certain context though, and for certain reasons. It is well known in psychology that children leaving infancy will oppose their parents for example, saying no to everything, and then teenagers of course. Later in life, conflicts often arise in families around big life events: weddings, births, funerals. The common thread seems to be that they are times of redefinition of boundaries, when there is a need for separation / for growing into your own person / or letting a family member grow into their own person. Opposition, saying tough words, is a kind of testing – between the lines, there is often this question the one who looks for separation is asking: Could I live w/o them? Who am I w/o them? And if we love people, in our families or in our friendships, we have to provide them the space to do this experience: To define themselves w/o us. Otherwise we enable dependency. We don’t give them a chance to grow.
– Carolyn Hax, counselor in the WP, often says that: “Love is not always about hugs and kittens”. I would say the same about the Gospel. The Gospel is about love, yet there are very few hugs and kittens. Because the Gospel is not only all about love. It is about love and freedom / there is this tension all along between the two. As we get more mature spiritually, the love we have for God leads us to grow into disciples away from the natural mold of human families, and it will bring tensions and dissensions with them, Jesus warns us today. And maybe it’s not so much a tension between freedom and love, maybe it is about growing the freedom to love. If we re-read the Bible from Genesis, we know it’s God’s plan for human beings: entering a covenant. Entering a covenant means: Not loving out of instinct (whether maternal, sexual, self preservation)…it’s natural to love this way, but we have to go further and choose to love. An expression I don’t really like b/c it feels like you have to force yourself to love! To force yourself to stay in bad relationships! To me, choosing to love is more about loving from a place of generosity / life giving / self giving (an expression I also like more than “self sacrificing” as we say sometimes). But the Christian idea is to love intentionally and to do so, you have to be able to distance yourself, to know you can do w/o those you love so you don’t love out of neediness / dependency.
– I am currently reading this book “All about love” by Bell Hooks and she says that we all want love but we often think more about receiving than giving / or if we think about giving, we still don’t really know how to love. She makes this point we have to start loving with self love. She says if we don’t love ourselves, we are going to bring all our hurts into our relationships b/c we wait for people to give us what they cannot give us / this love, this confidence, this acceptance we have to give to ourselves. Don’t we say: “Love your neighbor as yourself”?
Love of self is not a selfish love. Not a “Me first” kind of love. A foundational kind of love. To have this sense that we are worthy, that we are enough. I think that’s what our psalm (139) is talking about today. The love of self is discovering that there is already love inside of us, and that’s the love of God, at the root of all love. We are first received and accepted by God and it’s from this place we can love at our turn. In the movie “The Help” the nanny always says to the little girl who is abused by her mother: “You are important, you are beautiful”, reminding her to accept herself. Experiencing racism, rejection and bullying on a daily basis we understand it’s the way the nanny also herself manages to cope with life: Affirming her own value and beauty helps her deal with the scorn of other people.
– So Jesus today asks us to trust that we are enough, that we don’t depend on others to tell us who we are. When he says we need to be ready to hate our close ones, it is not about withdrawing our love and affection. In Jesus’s culture, parental relationships weren’t much about affection…He speaks about the “inner circle”, the tribe (makes sense if you look at what’s going on in this chapter all about the network of relationships). The family system in Jesus’s culture was based on honor / respect for the authority figures, where we are supposed to not “rock the boat”. Jesus teaches that love is not blind obedience or conformism, rather it’s a transformative spiritual force that brings life as long as it sets us free. My clue for this interpretation is that Jesus moves from talking about “hating our families” (opening) to “renouncing our possessions” (conclusion). It’s the same thing in Jesus’s mind. “Hating” is renouncing to possess people, but also refusing to be their possession. Bell Hooks says that a lot of women are still schooled to believe they cannot live w/o being somebody’s possession, w/o a man to “supervise” them, a father, a husband, an older son…. Yet, it’s not the kind of relationships Christians should believe in. In the Epistle we have just read, Paul quite clearly opposes slavery because he believes no one can be somebody’s possession. When there is a power unbalance, genuine love isn’t possible. As Christians, we are sisters and brothers in Christ: all with different abilities, skills, but equal. Jesus dis-constructs the nature and the culture of the human family to build a new spiritual family where everyone is equally important and included.
– So it means for us that there is a lot of letting go we need to be doing…Not only our possessions, things or possessive relationships, it can also be our ideas, our prejudices…through all of this letting go, we grow. Jeremiah reminds us we are not created once for all. We are in the potter’s hands, so the creation into our own being is on going. It often sounds reassuring, but we have to acknowledge that it’s harsh sometimes too. God models us and remodels us, as life smashes us, as we go through the fire. Not only as individuals but also as nations, as communities, as families, as individuals. Terrible things happen to us, yet we believe that, we can be re-shaped, made new, b/c God is not done with us yet. It’s also a warning: if we don’t let God heals us from our pain and our traumas, we will repeat them (nations/wars).
– Jesus promises us today it is worth it, in spite of all the pain, to trust God. “Take your cross” = Offer what happens to you to the glory of God. Even if it is seems shameful or insignificant: We are invited to offer all our trials but also our everyday lives, to God so God can transform us as we go through them. We often say that God will make it all turn for the best…It does not mean that the outcome that we will win in the end, but it’s about who God is going to turn us into through our crosses. Compassionate people thriving for justice.
– And so we believe that the work of God through our suffering is going to bring us closer to God. Because we are in the potter’s hands, suffering cannot turn us into bitter people, on the other way around, we have the hope that we will be turned into vessels able to receive and give love in truth. Bell Hooks has a very simple and beautiful definition of spiritual life. She says that Spiritual life is what gives us the strength to love day after day. Not out of need, but out of compassion. The cross was the worst suffering and God made it the source of all blessings. Made it worth it. Think about what God could do with your pain if you walk with God.
I read an article this week where a preacher says that when we travel, there is always a risk, there will be dangers, pain, yet we decide to do it anyway. Well he says, it’s the same when we are looking for God. Life is hard – not b/c God wants it to be hard but b/c we are separated from God – yet Jesus encourages to the crowds today to be on their way whatever the cost because he can guarantee that it is worth it.
– So today maybe we can think of all the places we are stuck in right now (whether in our heads or in our lives, as people but also as a christian community) and think about the kind of pain we may have to be able to walk through with God to be able to detach, move on and be brought closer to our real identity and to a more faithful and deeper love.