Jesus’ disciples left their families to follow Jesus. This fact has always troubled me. I have wondered what is the cost of discipleship? For each of us, it differs. What cost must our families bear? The demands of ministry – long hours, pastoral demands, and administrative duties – certainly burden our families.
In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus tells us the price of discipleship. 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
How can my loving God ask me to hate my family to be Jesus’ follower? I believe, perhaps erroneously, that the love of a parent for his or her child, while not the perfect or unconditional love God has for us, is an attempt to live and love as Christ did.
Jesus demands even more from us, his disciples. In Luke 18:20-30, he tells the Rich Ruler who desires eternal life, “20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.'” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
28 Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
The Rev. Dean Snyder of FoundryUnitedMethodistChurch says of this passage:
“For Jesus, it is not biological ties that make us family but the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. So, if someone loses family for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, Jesus is saying in this lifetime, through the church, you will find that for every parent you lose, you will have a hundred parents. For every brother or sister, you will have a hundred new brothers and sisters. For everything you give up, you will inherit a new family in this life and in the life to come, eternity. Family is shaped for Jesus around shared commitment and mission rather than mere biology.”
Peter doesn’t see Jesus’ message in this light. He protests that Jesus’ disciples left their families to follow him. I have trouble reconciling this sacrifice with the Jesus I knew and loved, no less with God’s ten great commandments. How could Jesus ask this of his followers? My highest priority has been my family, my immediate biological family. Sometimes that means not going to church if my son or my husband are sick and need my care. Sometimes that means not doing as well in seminary because my priorities lie with my husband and son. This quarter I have been unable to put in the time needed to earn good grades. As a result I must lower my expectations for myself, settling for lower grades. Yet because I am answering God’s call in attending seminary, I feel like I am failing God in not making the most of this education. How can I do anything less than my best for God? Unless God calls me to love my family first and foremost (as well as myself). To what does God call me? Does He command me to follow Jesus Christ without regard for obligations to my immediate family?
Perhaps my passionate biological drive as a mother mammal could be distorting my perspective and my understanding of Jesus’ message. Ever since I was almost three and my mother came home from the hospital with my sister, I knew that I would one day become a mother, that I like my mother was a female capable of bringing new life into the world. At that time, I didn’t realize that men had any involvement in the process, and was quite upset when, five years later, I learned of their role.
Enough about my childhood, and back to the Bible. Paul seems to counter Jesus’ exhortation to leave one’s family to follow him. In Paul’s letters, he affirms that familial love and duty are necessary obligations of believers. In his 1st letter to Timothy (5:8) he lists the duties of a believer stating that, “…whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Then in his 1st letter to the Corinthians (9:1-5) he argues for the Rights of an Apostle, exclaiming, “1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? …5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
To the Ephesians (6:1-4) Paul writes that we are commanded to honor and obey our parents, stating that, “1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”–this is the first commandment with a promise: 3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
So to whom do I listen? To Jesus? To Paul? While I prefer Paul’s message, Christ is my leader. It is he who I love, he who I hold in total awe, whose message of love and forgiveness move me. So, although I find it difficult, I will try to understand that it is Jesus and his message that makes us family, not biology.