Sermon for Pentecost 7

Proper  8  “a”      *    June  26, 2005

Holy Trinity/St. Anskar

 

Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me

 

+ In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

So again today, family values seem to take it on the chin.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

 

   It’s pretty clear that this came from a time in the Church’s life when there was a lot of turmoil. Everything was getting turned upside down. Bad things were happening in Jerusalem.  Families were divided about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. You could get in big touble, even lose your life for siding with the Jesus movement. Children denounced their parents and vice-versa. Brothers and sisters ratted each other out to the authorities. Matthew wrote for a Jewish-Christian community that still bore the scars of this conflict, a generation later. So maybe it was comforting for them to hear in the mouth of the Savior this prophecy that seemed to refer to them. It’s what scholars call a vaticinium ex eventu: a prophecy remembered after the event prophesied. So that is probably the historical occasion for the passage, but what does it mean as Holy Writ? What does it mean for us in our ordinary lives: 

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me?

 

   Well, there is the psychological interpretation: however much we may love our parents, we have to make our own way in the world, we have to find our own vocation, our own path to God. That may or may not be entirely pleasing to our parents. Indeed, it seems from certain incidents recorded in the Gospels that Jesus’s fidelity to His vocation was not entirely pleasing to His own family or to His Most Holy Mother! You remember, they were asking to see Him and He said to the disciples

“Who are my mother and my brothers? Those who do the will of my Father in Heaven. They are my mother and my Brothers.”

 

   Christian family values. But then on the other hand, Jesus described himself as a Supporter of the Law. And the commandment to honor father and mother is right up there: the very first one after the duties to God. Filial obligations are also religious duties. Normally we assume they are not in conflict with our duty to God, but a natural part of it. That is what is so startling about these anti-family passages. Like the one where someone says he wants to follow Jesus, but only after he has given his father a decent burial. Now there’s a religious obligation of the first order. But Jesus blows it off rather brutally: “Let the dead bury the dead.”

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.

 

   Then there is a theological interpretation: since the only duty more important than honoring parents is the duty to God, then Jesus was claiming the love due to God. No one else in the history of Hebrew religion ever said anything remotely like this. It was completely outrageous. People who say the early Christians had no idea of the divinity of Christ, or that it was thought up much later – by Constantine, for example at the Council of Nicaea – haven’t really read the Bible very carefully.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.

 

   Another interpretation occurred to me, having to do with the nature of family and filial affection. In a way, to love our family is to love ourselves, isn’t it. Me and mine. In a sense, our family identity – expanded to include our extended family, our  clan, our tribe, and eventually our nation – can be a problem. A very big problem. Can’t it. Think of how indigenous peoples almost always refer to themselves, that is to their own tribe: “The human beings.” And everyone else is something else. Family values run the risk of turning into a dangerous preference – even a murderous preference – for one’s own kind. That is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel. When Paul said “there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” he was saying what His Master had said when he asked “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

   In Christ, the duty one has to one’s family extends to all people – and probably to all creation. If you love father or mother more than Christ, it means that you are still dividing humanity up into PLUs and others, us and them. As long as you do that, you don’t get it. You are not worthy of Him. You are not really on board. Do you want to know about Christian family values? Here they are: EVERYBODY is your family. For example, Gay people, who celebrate this weekend, are our family. Not a threat to Christian family values. The threat is from those who would make them other or hold them outside. For real Christian family values, as taught by Jesus Christ, there are no others beyond the pale of our obligation to love and honor just as much as our own father and mother.

   That is part of the meaning of the awful, paradoxical new commandment to love your enemies. It is a contradiction in terms. Love those you don’t love. Or maybe it means “love those who don’t love you.”  I don’t know. Food for thought and for another sermon. But for today, think of the passage not only in its original historical context, but in the context of the love of enemies, the obliteration of hostile distinctions.

Who are My Mother and My Brothers?…one’s foes are members of one’s own household.”

 

AMEN              MARANATHA

COME, LORD JESUS!