Today’s reading is one of the most troubling passages in the whole Bible. Is Jesus calling upon us to abandon our families? Those who are nearest and dearest to us? The ones who have loved and nurtured us? Those who depend most absolutely upon us? Are we even to hate them? And “even life itself”? Not to mention our possessions? What?
Here Jesus has engaged in a bit of hyperbole to make a point that is no exaggeration. None of our earthly loyalties is as important as our commitment to God. God is everything to us. Anything else is relative. We remember that Jesus himself displays attachment to his own family: his mother, his brother. The fact that he refers to God as “Father” suggests that his relationship to his earthly father is intimate and caring. But these and all other earthly attachments cannot be as central as our devotion to God.
Twentieth-century theologian H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about the importance of our “center of value,” the basis on which we evaluate everything else. He spoke of how most people value their group (family, community, nation, etc.) as more important than anything else. But we cannot allow these loyalties to take the place of God. Verse 33 speaks directly to one of our most tempting idolatries: our possessions. Our culture can lead us to be pretty materialistic. We all need material things, but they are not our central life purpose. As Jesus reminds us, giving up our material attachments is a prerequisite to being his disciple.
Dear God, help us gain new perspective on what really matters. Liberate us from false attachment to lesser things. Amen.
Jeremiah brings another warning of impending judgment. If the people will not turn to the Lord, God will break the nation and reshape it, just as a potter breaks down and reshapes clay on a wheel. The psalmist praises God for God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us. Even from the moment of conception, God knows us and has a plan for our lives. Philemon is often overlooked, but it packs a punch. A text that some used in the past to justify slavery teaches a very different message. Paul warns Philemon not to enslave Onesimus again but to receive him back as a brother. Secular power structures have no place in God’s kingdom. In Luke, Jesus uses striking examples to teach us that the life of faith cannot be lived well with half-hearted commitment.
Read Jeremiah 18:1-11. As clay, how can you better respond to the Potter’s guiding hand?
Read Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18. God knows you better than you know yourself, yet God has given you the ability to make your own decisions. How do you respond to God?
Read Philemon 1-21. How do you honor the full humanity of those who serve you through their work?
Read Luke 14:25-33. What does it mean for you to take up the cross in your life?
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