One day, I attended a function at a local public school. While I was waiting on the line to hand over my ticket and enter the hall, my attention shifted to a young student wearing a very colorful T-Shirt. There were some colorful writings on the T-Shirt as well. I moved closer to read the message: “My parents are on sale, buy one and get one free.” I found myself thinking about parents and just how challenging it must be for them to raise children in this day and age. There are just so many distractions and most of the young people are caught unawares. As the saying goes, they are literally caught between the rock and a hard place. Once in a while, in my conversations with parents, they tend to admit albeit with some reservations that they just can’t wait for the children to move out: go to college or start their own families.
When I was growing up, we were expected to respect our parents, whether we liked it or not. Parents expected to be respected and even if they were clearly on the wrong, we as children could not talk back or try to reason out with them. Their word was law. There was a mantra that we kept reciting to ourselves: “Your parents brought you up, do not bring them down.” In a word, we were to make our parents proud in everything we did. It was understood that our own actions reflected the kinds of families that we grew up in. As a result, family ties were paramount and no one was waiting for us to move out. We loved being at home. It was always sad to leave home to go somewhere else for a long period of time. Whenever we left home for a long journey or for long semesters in boarding school, we could not wait to go back home and be with family and friends.
In the ninth Chapter of Luke’s Gospel, there is an interesting passage where Jesus sounds very unconventional when it comes to family affairs. He tells the people who want to follow him to deny or rather neglect their families, friends and respective duties related to the same. He tells one of them who wants to follow him that there is no place to call home: “foxes have holes, birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” To another man who wants to go bury his father first, he says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” To another man who wants to say goodbye to his family prior to following him, he warns not to look back but rather move forward; there is no turning back. As you finish reading this particular pericope, you begin to wonder, “Whatever happened to sweet Jesus; love your neighbor, love your friend, love your enemy and watch out for everyone who needs help! I want my sweet Jesus back! ” What can we make of this seeming attitude of ingratitude toward familial ties?
Well, I can think of three things. First, Jesus is making it clear that he is the New Law and the new Lawgiver. Only God can expand on or add to laws that are (were) already enshrined in the Torah. We see Jesus doing this in many other places in relation to the law of the Sabbath, the law about forgiveness, the question about divorce and even the contentious issue of fasting. He and his disciples are accused of not keeping the Sabbath, of not fasting, of intermingling with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus explains that the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath: the Sabbath is there for man and not man for Sabbath. He makes it clear that he is laying out the new law.
Secondly, Jesus wants to make it clear that when it comes to following Him, there is no excuse. Love of family, friends and wealth does not trump discipleship. In another place, that is, in the 14th Chapter, he is even more explicit: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” The truth here is stranger than fiction; Jesus is Lord of both the living and the dead. Therefore, even the burial of one’s own father or matters of one’s own life do not take precedence over the life of discipleship. After all, Jesus has already redefined family as those who hear the word of God and live it out. Compared to eternal life in God’s kingdom, all the other important affairs in our daily lives are simply superfluous.
Finally, the Lord wants to make it clear that distractions must be put at bay if anyone has any chance of making it in the arena of the proclamation of the Kingdom. There is that famous song that sounds so nice to hear but almost impossible to live out: I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning back, no turning back. Usually, we sing this song and when we are done, we turn back and do whatever we were doing before we sang. It is incumbent upon believers to be counter-cultural, to be unconventional and proclaim the Kingdom in season and out of season. The greatest challenge in this day and age is to strive and gospelize the culture and not to cave in and culturize the gospel.