Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers
and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christianity demands that those who wish to follow Jesus get acquainted with extremes.
Not necessarily comfortable, but at least acquainted. The Gospel is after all one where
the light shines in the darkness and the first are the last; where Christ is dead and
descends into hell but also where Christ is risen and sits at the right hand of the Father
in heaven; where those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their
life for the sake of Christ will save it. Like I said, extremes.
And this morning’s passage from Luke is no exception. Here we find three extreme and
uncompromising conditions, set by Christ himself, for anyone who would wish to
become one of his disciples. They deal with three loves: the love of family, the love of
life, and the love of possessions. But apparently, these three loves are utterly
incompatible with the way of Jesus and must be renounced entirely. The bar has been
set; the line drawn. Who among us would ever presume to cross it? Who among us
could dare consider themselves to be disciples of Christ?
These are important questions, possibly even the questions. And yet I suspect that they
are probably not the ones that normally come to mind when we think of our religion.
According to one Anglican writer, most of us are more or less inclined to think of the
Christian life “as a static condition of not too exalted goodness” . You know, the
Christianity of moderate and reasonable. Agreeable to the general public.
And so this sensible Christianity of “not too exalted goodness” is one that just about
any decent person could follow with neither “overwhelming exertion” nor any
expectation of further progress or struggle . And we like it that way, because it means
that we can be Christians in basically the same way that we’re tall or short or
Midwestern. “Christian” is just who we are , give or take a few adjustments here and
But then Jesus turns to the crowds -- turns to us -- and cancels the brunch. Passages like
these serve as an abrupt wake-up call to Christians who live as we tend to live, as
followers of a decidely not -extreme Christianity. So the question remains: who among
us could dare consider themselves to be disciples of Christ?
Now there are other parts of the Bible that seem to suggest the opposite of what Jesus is
saying here. I say that not to excuse ourselves from Jesus’ teaching, but because we desire
to be faithful interpreters of the Scriptures. So we immediately recall to mind the
passages that tell us that the family is blessed by God and that our lives and our
possessions are gifts from God. Why would Jesus have us hate what God has blessed and
what God has given us?
Let’s start where Jesus starts, with the family. Now we already know from Scripture that
families are blessed by God. But we also know that Jesus commands us elsewhere to love
our neighbors as ourselves. So when he tells the crowds that they must hate their
families to be his disciples , the “hatred” has to be understood rhetorically, since families
are all made up of neighbors and neighbors are to be loved. Jesus speaks of hating the
family, however, to remind the crowds that there may well be those who are forced to
make the choice between Jesus and their kin. And if they choose Jesus, it will effectively
be as though they have indeed hated their families. Because that’s definitely what their
townspeople will say, anyway.
And this is exactly how many of the early Christians experienced the call to follow
Christ in times of persecution. Especially if they were converts from pagan families and
even more especially if they were women who were converts from pagan families. For
them, to become a Christian was often a radical rejection of the social order, of the way
things were done. Take St. Agatha, who was killed for her faith in the 3rd Century. The
scandal of her conversion that led to her martyrdom was not just that she had become a
Christian, though that was bad enough, but also that she had taken a vow of celibacy
and thus renounced the life of marriage and family that was expected of her as a woman
from a noble family. St. Agatha hated her family for the sake of Christ, not out of
malice, but out of her unwavering devotion to Christ which was so intense that
whatever love she had for her family became like hatred when compared to her love of
All that to say, being a disciple of Christ has very little to do with so-called “family
values,” and the takeaway for those of us who aren’t likely to have to choose between
Christ and our families is that we must resist turning the family into an idol and
domesticating the Christian life into something quaint and respectable.
Now to the love of life. The lives we live are gifts from God, as Scripture teaches. That
makes us stewards of our lives, rather than their owners . None of us creates ourselves or
chooses to be born into the world. We come into life as into an abundance that
infinitely exceeds whatever we could deserve, as though we could ever deserve to live
without being alive in the first place. So life is gift because life is grace. Which is why we
are not our own, but rather exist to be presented back to God our Creator as a living
sacrifice. Our selves, our souls, and bodies. Why then does Jesus command us to hate
our lives and carry the cross in order to be his disciples?
As with the family, there may come a time when a choice must be made between
following Christ and protecting our lives. Martyrs like St. Agatha show forth this choice
in the extreme, but there are in fact lots of less dramatic occasions where this same
choice is presented to us. Each moment that we choose to clutch our lives as things
which belong to us without remainder; when no matter how trivially, we cling to
ourselves as to things which exist for us alone rather than as gifts that were given to be
given , we set ourselves against the call of Christ. And it is this kind of love of life, a false
love, that is to be hated, renounced, and yielded to the cross. “To live is Christ and to
die is gain,” as St. Paul told the Philippians.
And finally, the love of possessions. Like our lives, our possessions are also gifts from
God. As the prayer we say at the Offertory puts it, “All things come of thee, O Lord;
and of thine own have we given thee.” And since everything actually belongs to God,
whatever property we happen to possess is only “ours” in a purely relative and
provisional sense. Our possessions are gifts to be given. But possessions are complicated
because the more possessions you acquire, the less they look like gifts. Or put another
way, the more possessions you acquire, the more you’ll likely think of them as belonging
to you in an absolute sense. They’re mine ; and because they’re mine , I can do whatever I
want with them. I can acquire as much wealth as I please and enjoy and dispose of my
property however I choose and I don’t have to justify any of it because it’s my right to
do so .
Our whole social order is built on this thinking. We live in what R.H. Tawney called an
“acquisitive society,” a society whose total interest and pre-occupation is “to promote
the acquisition of wealth”  and which thereby “makes the individual the center of his
own universe” . An individual that is the center of their own universe is a rival god
and the unbridled acquisition of wealth is one of the best ways to become the center of
your own universe. Which is why Jesus exhorts people to give up their possessions
throughout the Gospels. It’s not that the possessions are evil in themselves -- again,
they’re gifts -- but rather that in their acquisition , they can have this strange effect upon
the soul which turns it away from God and neighbor and inward to its own vice. So it’s
no surprise that a society devoted to the acquisition of wealth like ours inevitably
becomes one where systemic injustice reigns and the poor are oppressed. The prophets
are abundantly clear on this.
So turning to Christ’s call to give up all of our possessions, there are at least two ways of
going about this. First, you can always pull a St. Francis and literally give away all your
possessions to the poor and God bless you if you do. The saints who embraced
voluntary poverty are to possessions what the martyrs are to life , as each in their own way
embody the fullness of Christian discipleship in a single act of obedience. There are
monasteries if you’re interested. But if not -- and that’s ok too -- you can still obey
Christ’s call to give up your possessions by possessing them in a Christian way. Because
our possessions are gifts, we can still possess them as gifts . But that means that we first
have to discipline our desire for the acquisition of wealth and then possess what we do
have as not our own, but as common, so that we can be ready to give them freely to
those in need, as St. Thomas Aquinas would say .
In themselves, the three loves of family, life, and possessions are acceptible and pleasing
to God, for they love nothing other than what God himself has given us. But these loves
must be properly ordered. And because of our inclination to sin, they can only be
properly ordered through an intense struggle of self-examination, repentance, and
renunciation. Jesus singles out the love of family, life, and possessions precisely because
they are such good gifts. That’s why our love for them so easily becomes distorted and
If we wish to follow Jesus, we must always estimate the cost of discipleship. For this is
not a religion of a “not too exalted goodness.” It is in fact a religion of nothing less than
perfection itself -- and perfection is the ultimate gift that God will give to those who,
with St. Paul, “regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing
Christ Jesus my Lord.”
 Kenneth E. Kirk. Some Principles of Moral Theology , 126.
 Ibid, 126.
 R.H. Tawney. The Acquisitive Society , 24.
 Ibid, 29.
 Ibid, 31.
 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 66, Art. 2
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