Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 • Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 1 • Philemon 1:1-21 • Luke 14:25-33
In Luke this week, Jesus throws down a real challenge. If you don't hate your family, you can't be a disciple. Wow. Who would have thought this would be in the scriptures?
Hopefully Jesus was using exaggeration to make his point. Going with that hope, and in any event to make this a little more approachable, let's begin with a simpler challenge. Instead of hating your family, what would it be like to love your family a little less? Just a little less intensity: less caring about them, trying to please them, trying to fit in, trying to make room for their needs, trying to accommodate what everyone else wants, trying to be sensitive to each person's feelings, trying to keep everyone happy, trying to smooth things over?
Children seem to get this idea. Last weekend, our grandson, who loves little rocks, spotted a big pile of them. His mother encouraged him to pick out one for his grandfather and one for me. Putting them in his pocket, he started to walk away, but then went back, announcing, "and one for me!" When he gave me my rock, he carefully checked to assure that his own was still there.
In a calm atmosphere, with time to think, even a child can remember to stop and care for his own self. In a heightened atmosphere, though, it gets harder. Years ago, I was trying to talk with my mother about her getting a living will. She got upset, and my insistence that she really had to have one, didn't help. Finally, we dropped the whole thing. A few months later, we went to see a lawyer, an old family friend, on another matter. In the course of the conversation, he brought up the need for a living will, in a matter of fact way. To my surprise, she agreed right away. It had been my over-concern all along that had gotten in the way of her ability to handle the subject. Mom became more free to make good decisions for herself in the presence of someone who managed to stay calm, focusing more on managing himself than on managing others.
Even managing possessions can become a distraction, fraught with emotional encumbrances. In the words of a great country song, "there ain't nothing in this house worth fighting over." And yet we are just human beings, and the sight of some particular object can bring back memories and associated deep, deep feelings. Jesus, it seems to me, is saying here that these emotions can get in our way. He is pointing us towards emotional reason; recognizing an object as separate from the memory may help a person when it's time to clean the attic. Any group with goals – and this can be anything from a group of disciples trying to usher in the kingdom of God to a family trying to figure out how to put a child through college – must be realistic about the challenges. Being realistic may involve emotional reason: in a sense, loving others less intensely and becoming less anxious about them. Then and only then does a group have a chance to think through a problem, or, as Jesus puts it, to count the costs.
Morning: Where might I encounter intensity in myself and others today? How can I stay thoughtful when anxiety creeps in?
Evening: How can I find peace at the end of the day?