“If any of you come to me…and don’t hate your father and your mother, your wife and your children, your brothers and your sisters- yes, and even your own life!- you can’t be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26
So much for “family values.” Maybe that’s because Jesus, as N.T. Wright reminds us in his commentary on Luke, taken from Wright’s wonderful series, The New Testament for Everyone, isn’t running for office here. Jesus, Wright explains, is more like “the leader of a great expedition, forging a way through a high and dangerous mountain pass to bring urgent medical aid to villages cut off from the rest of the world.” Jesus is preparing those who think they want to follow Him for the Spartan-like vow of allegiance that will be required of them. No competing value- not even those that come most naturally to us, like marriage and family, like life itself- can hold pride of place next to “Jesus is Lord.”
I must admit to some consternation here. How do we traverse those gray spaces between courageous obedience to Christ and sheer irresponsibility in our familial relationships? Isn’t it easy to excuse all kinds of morally problematic decision making with the claim that we’re on an important mission? Great oversights can often be excused in God’s name.
I remember once being introduced in a church service in Kenya with high praise for the fact that I had left my family at home in the States to come all the way to Kenya to be with the church there. Was it really a compliment? Maybe. Maybe not. I was getting a free trip to an exotic place and a break from my familial duties, afterall!
There are countless examples of missionaries who have more permanently left their families to answer the call of the Gospel in far-flung corners of the earth. They have given away their lives in often incredibly heroic ways. Just the other day my husband showed the movie, “The Mission,” to his class, the soundtrack for which almost always brings me to tears. It tells the true story of a group of Jesuit missionaries who ultimately sacrifice themselves for and along with the aboriginal Guarani people in South America, when Portuguese soldiers massacre their community.
Jesus seems to be saying that even the most praiseworthy things that give us meaning and a sense of groundedness in this life pale in comparison to God’s mission. That we have to be willing to give up any claim to their possession if we really want to follow Jesus. Where our allegiance is genuinely in line with a call from God, and where it is a rationale for escape from existing vocations as wives, husbands, partners, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons, is left for us to discern, I suppose, as a matter of conscience, with a level of fear and trembling.