The Rev. Brad Sullivan
Proper 8, Year A
So, in last week’s Gospel, there was this rather interesting bit where Jesus said that he had come to set family members against each other and, “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.” At first glance it might look like if we’re going to follow Jesus, we’re supposed to turn against our family? Some might even preach that we should turn against our family or friends if they don’t believe in Jesus.
That is, of course, completely misunderstanding what Jesus was saying. First note the context. Jesus was talking to his disciples in first century Israel, and the religious leaders of the time weren’t over fond of Jesus and his teachings. He was considered by many to be a heretic, and so were his followers. So, Jesus was warning his disciples, saying, “If you follow me, your family might turn against you. Realize that fact, and if your family turns against you, don’t stop being my disciples. Work to accept that your family might not understand, that they may turn against you.”
That was a tough pill to swallow: people’s families turning against them for following Jesus, being exiled from their communities for following Jesus. Jesus referred to it as taking up a cross. Jesus was telling his disciples, that it was likely going to get pretty tough for them, and he was encouraging them to continue to follow and believe in him, despite the difficulties. Never let anyone fool you into thinking God is against you, even if people turn against you.
Never was Jesus’ message, you should turn against anyone who doesn’t believe in me. Nowadays, however, some folks seem to turn Jesus’ message around, saying things like, “If someone in your family isn’t Christian and won’t convert, stay away from them, or if someone in your family is a sinner, stay away from them. Shun them.” Must we hate people or declare others our enemies in order to be Jesus’ disciple?
Nope. Nope, nopey, nope, nope, nope. That’s the exact opposite of what Jesus was saying. Jesus wasn’t saying turn against others. Jesus was saying to his disciples, “People may turn against you for being my disciples, and if they do, accept it, be ok with it, and continue to love them. Realize that God is not against you, even if your family turns against you.”
Then, in our reading today, Jesus continues assuring his disciples that those who treat them poorly need not be worried about. Those who treat his disciples well, Jesus said, would receive the reward of the righteous. Don’t worry if people turn against you for being my disciple, Jesus was saying. Try not to get too down over it. God’s with you, despite what some may say, and God will be with you always.
So, accept that when we seek to follow in Jesus’ ways, some people may not get it.
Now, by and large, most of us aren’t going to face the same kinds of difficulties for following Jesus as his disciples did in first century Israel. His disciples back then faced excommunication, shunning from their families, sometimes even death.
Nowadays in Houston, Texas, when we decide to follow Jesus, some folks may think it’s lame. Some may think we’re going to become terribly judgmental. Some may be afraid we’re going to start hating them because of who they are, things they do, ways of life which some Christians frown upon. Remember, though, Jesus never taught his disciples to hate or shun others. Rather he taught his disciples to accept that people may hate or shun them. Rather than grow angry or resentful, accept it, and continue to love.
In our reading from Romans, today, Paul talked about being freed from sin. In light of Jesus’ teaching, think about sin as being angry, resentful, or hateful toward non-Christians or folks who may turn away from you for being a Christian. Responding to that with anger, resentment, and hatred is dismissing the freedom of Christ and binding ourselves up in sin again. Folks may hate you…for any number of reasons. You don’t have to hate them back. That is freedom.
There are folks in America nowadays who say Christianity is under attack. I don’t believe it is, but even if Christianity is under attack, Jesus said, “be ok with it.” He didn’t say, “attack them back.” That’s the total opposite of what he said.
There was a gentleman on the Metro up in DC where my wife is right now, and this man got on the Metro and started talking loudly at everyone on the car, telling them about Jesus and how they needed to be saved. That’s not evangelism. That’s just frantic, angry, forcing one’s religion on others. It’s also just socially awkward and weird.
Jesus didn’t say, “force your views on others.” That’s the exact opposite of what he said. Jesus didn’t enslave us to being weird and awkward and hating others. Jesus offered us freedom from fear, freedom from anger, freedom from resentment, and freedom from hatred. Jesus offered us freedom to believe in him, and trust in him, and be ok with the fact that others don’t. Jesus was very clear in his message to his disciples that their faith didn’t require others to share it. Others don’t believe as we do, and our faith doesn’t require them to.
“Bless those who curse you,” Jesus taught. How much more then, does Jesus teach, “Bless those who don’t believe as you do.” Love other people. That’s freedom. We don’t have to get angry or resentful towards others. We are freed from sin, yet somehow the church often seems to be consumed by sin, focusing so much attention on sin…usually someone else’s sin.
“We’re all sinners, we’re forgiven, but you…you had better stop sinning.” Why do we get so wrapped up in sin, especially other people’s sin, when Jesus came to free us from sin? Sin is ways that we harm ourselves and harm others. When we get all bent out of shape over other people’s sin, when we drink that cup of anger and resentment, all we’re doing is poisoning ourselves and then harming others out of our own poisoned souls. Getting so wrapped up in sin just causes us to sin.
As Jesus’ disciples, we don’t offer judgment for others’ sin. Jesus was about forgiving sin, freeing us from sin. We may, in socially normal ways, offer people some of the healing we’ve found in Jesus. We also get to be totally ok if people don’t want it. They don’t have to. Our faith has no need for them to. That’s freedom, freedom which Jesus has given us.
Our way as disciples of Jesus is the way of forgiveness, healing, and love. Anger, resentment, hatred of others has no place in the way of Jesus. Others may not like the fact that we’re Christians. That’s ok. We don’t need to force acceptance on others, to force others to be Christian or even to like Christianity. Jesus didn’t teach us to force our faith on others. Jesus taught us to love. Even if people reject you, love them, Jesus said. In the face of anger and fear, offer the way of love.