St. Paul says “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise” in Ephesians 1:1-3 and we even have prayers for people on their deathbeds asking God to forgive them if they have not honored their parents. It seems pretty clear in scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments that honoring your parents is absolutely non-negotiable. And it doesn’t even qualify these commands with “But only if they are good parents.”
There is something genuinely caustic about an ungrateful or disobedient child. If a child can’t find a way to show gratitude towards his parents, then that uncovers a deep character flaw.
Of course, history is full of stories about bad parents, and those who struggle with this sad situation genuinely struggle with this clear teaching of scripture. But the truth is all our parents are flawed in some way, and all of us kids are flawed as well. Navigating how to show honor even to bad parents is an exercise that promises great spiritual treasures for those of us who want to discover balanced answers.
Then, again, Jesus comes along and blows up the whole narrative with our scripture lesson today! Thanks a lot! 🙂
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 14:25-35:
At that time, great multitudes accompanied Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
OK, let’s set the context of this very difficult passage. Jesus is teaching His disciples what it will “cost” them to be His followers. And it looks like the cost is pretty high. But loyalty and faithfulness to anything or anyone are going to cost you. It all depends on how you value what you truly love. Jesus seems to say that loving Him and following Him is going to have to penetrate the very foundation of your life. I guess it all depends on if it’s worth it to follow Jesus.
First, the cost. If you are going to be a serious follower of Jesus Christ it’s going to cost you plenty. Following Jesus means He comes before your parents, your wife, your children, your brothers, and sisters, and even your very life. Following Jesus means He comes before any and all other loves. In fact, your love for Jesus is going to be more important than everyone else in your life. Even more, your love for Christ is going to have to be so complete that your love for your family looks like “hate” in comparison to your love for Christ. WHAT? That’s a pretty expensive love!
Yes, yes it is. And Jesus isn’t kidding. But before you go running for the exit, let me put this passage into perspective. The society of Jesus’ day valued the tribal family connection above all others, to the point that when the father or leader of the clan spoke, the matter was settled. Period. This, of course, is the natural result of society being built with the family as the bedrock of society. This is preserved even in the theology of the Church that calls the nuclear family “the little Church.” So, Jesus isn’t commanding you to love your family less. He’s calling on you to know that if you are really going to stick with this disciplined life of the follower of Jesus, you are going to have to love Him more!
Is it worth it? You better believe it is. Prioritizing your faithfulness and love for Christ above all others means you are going to have a life that is properly ordered. In fact, your love for Christ above everyone else will set you free from the passions that poison your family relationships right now! So, loving Him more than your parents set you free to love your parents as they should be loved!
Today, this hard saying is meant to wake us up. It’s meant to disturb us and make us ask questions, but in the end, it is meant to make us stop and count the cost of being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You are the very source of my life. My life is disordered and enslaved when I fail to put You first in my life. Please help me to embrace the wise cost of being Your disciple so that all my other relationships will be properly loved and valued in light of loving You first and foremost! Amen
Dear Ones, our Winter Lent begins today! Please use the wisdom of the fasting disciplines of the Faith to help you prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity!
I chafe a little at the reference to the term “nuclear family” particularly since families in the Old Country tended to be heavily extended families that truly would have resembled “The Little Church” metaphor instead of the ersatz 50s smiling TV “nuclear” model