Ed said that the Jesus of the Gospels is not someone that you can always cozy up to. Yes, Jesus proclaimed that the meek would inherit the earth, that the poor would find joy. But other statements by Jesus seem uncaring and hateful: "If you do not hate your family, you do not love me." "Let the dead bury the dead."
What are we to make of these enigmatic sayings of Jesus? Do we throw them out, because they seem incongruous with His other teachings? No, because they are off-putting, they are that much more likely to have been accurately recorded. (If people are creating a religion, they wouldn't list Jesus' enigmatic sayings, just as they wouldn't reflect the disputes between Paul and Peter as the leaders of the new religion.) Many of Jesus' pronouncements were similar to those of the prophets, but these two were not. So, how do we read these two? Are they Good News?
Last year, on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, we lost Butch Smith, my children's godmother and probably my wife's best friend. This year, on the night before Thanksgiving, we lost Debbie's dad. If you take Jesus' sayings literally, then Debbie shouldn't love her family--"hate your mother and father." If we take Jesus' sayings literally, then Debbie should let others tend to burying her father. Obviously, these sayings are not to be taken literally. If we don't take these sayings literally, how do we read them? We read them in the context of Jesus' reason for coming to earth and living amongst us.
Jesus came to proclaim the everlasting Kingdom of God. So that we would know what type of kingdom God ruled, Jesus came to reveal God's attributes. We tend to believe that God is not approachable--how could mere man approach his creator, indeed the creator of the universe? Jesus came to demonstrate that God is approachable. Jesus was born a baby in a manger, not a palace. Who can't approach a baby born in humble circumstances? Jesus began his life in a backwoods town--Nazareth--the son of a carpenter. Again, not someone who is unapproachable. Jesus' last years were lived as a homeless, itinerant preacher--approachable. Finally, Jesus was subjugated to the desires and whims of the political and religious rulers of His day and hung upon a cross. Again, approachable.
Jesus wasn't just approachable however. He lived a life filled with mercy. He showed mercy upon women, prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, Gentiles, Samaritans--virtually every group that was on the "outs" in Roman--occupied Israel. Jesus broke through social, political, and economic boundaries. He was the "friend of the sinner." He was acquainted with our griefs and sorrows. So, how do we read his sayings which appear to reflect that He is unconcerned with our sorrows? It all goes back to His purpose--declaring the advent of the Kingdom of God and the character of the Kingdom.
In the Kingdom of God, familial relationships will pale in comparison to the love flowing from Jesus to us and then to all mankind. Indeed, at Thanksgiving, we recognize that familial relationships are often based upon past hurts, rejection, bitterness, jealousy, and other life-sapping emotions. So, if familial relationships are as good as it gets, then maybe we should look for another Kingdom, for another God. But the Good News is that Jesus tells us that relationships in the Kingdom will make worldly familial relationships pale, absolutely pale, in comparison. We can rejoice in the expectation, and the enjoyment, of such relationships. My very best friends are those that also believe that God's character is always to have mercy. (Denominational issues do not occlude our relationships). Yet, friendships don't end there. In the Kingdom, we can actually love our enemies. In doing so, we often find that they are not truly our enemies or, often times, they become friends. So, it's not that we are to "hate our mothers and fathers," it's that a relationship with Jesus, and Kingdom relationships, are just that much better.
What about letting the "dead bury the dead?" Jesus spoke these words as he was calling one of His disciples to join Him in His work of proclaiming the advent of the Kingdom. Jesus' words connote, not that He was uncaring about a dead father, but that the news about the Kingdom is so wonderful that time should not be wasted in proclaiming it. Indeed, the news about the Kingdom is a balm, indeed the only true balm, to those who have lost loved ones. For the Kingdom is ruled by a merciful eternal King--one who is acquainted with our sorrows and is "making all things new"--even unto and after worldly death.