25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
The child dashed across the supermarket aisle in front of me, “come here” yelled the frustrated parent, “I’m going to kill you.”
“I’ll skin you if you touch them” said the rather grumpy Dad to the child whose outstretched hand was about grab the car keys
'I'm so hungry I could eat a horse,
'I haven't seen you in ages!'
I’ve got loads of homework.
You know her, the one who never stops talking. ...
This is going to take me years to finish.
Hyperbole, we use it all the time, it is that knack of exaggerating either the consequences, or the action required, as a way of saying there is something about this that matters, that this is important, this is really important.
Even Jesus enjoyed the odd rhetorical flourish every now and then, throwing in a bit of hyperbole to make the point. You might remember in Matthews gospel he tells his listeners to gouge out their eyes or cut of their arm, or in today’s reading – hate everyone, except God. Hyperbole, he was saying this matters.
It was back in 2017 that I first read of the idea that there was a new religion in town: “Its moral code promises salvation, its high priests uphold their orthodoxy and many of its doctrines are taken on faith” wrote academic John Rapely.
Just think about the way language is used on the today program and others, phrases such as ‘the market dictates’ or ‘we are waiting for a signal from the financial institutions before reviewing our policy.’ Sounds a bit like the fundamentalist declaring confidently ‘the Bible says’ or ‘we are waiting for the will of God to become clear before deciding.’
Then there is the offer of this new religion, and it isn’t pie in the sky when you die, but rather it is a comprehensive doctrine with a moral code promising adherents salvation in this world; an ideology so compelling that the faithful remake whole societies to conform to its demands. It has its gnostics, mystics and magicians who conjure money out of thin air, using spells such as “derivative” or “structured investment vehicles”. And, like the old religions it has displaced, it has its prophets, reformists, moralists and above all, its high priests who uphold orthodoxy in the face of heresy.
Its believers give us guidance on how to reach a promised land of material abundance and endless contentment. People like Martin Lewis, the money saving expert, advises on wellbeing, campaigns on mental health, and earned his platform by talking very fast about it. For a long time it has seemed that this new faith had succeeded in a way few other religions had ever done, incomes rising thousands of times over and delivering a cornucopia bursting with new inventions, cures and delights.
This was our heaven, and richly did we reward the economic priesthood, with status, wealth and power to shape our societies according to their vision. The church bought into it as enthusiastically as everyone else, money is too often the measure of successful ministry, ‘touch the screen’ says the TV evangelist ‘then mail me $100 and you will be healed.’
Yet the tragedy is, the edifice is hollow, as that which Bill Clinton described as ‘a force of nature’ now begins to betray the very people who worship at its shrines.
So, what has this got to do with Jesus telling us to start hating those we love, with his stressing the importance of a God shaped view of the world to the exclusion of all others. You see, this matters so much that that we dare not understate it, for what he was making clear is that the one we choose to shape our lives around, the one whose orthodoxy we root our identity in, that is how we relate to everyone else.
There was a man who built a factory, he thought to himself I will build it here in this town, for the workers are plentiful and the technology is cheap. The town grew as the people came to offer their labour. He built great machines and the factory prospered. His home was a like a palace, his workers responded to his every whim. “Hasn’t he done well” they said as his opulence increased, “isn’t he a great example” they said, as his private jet skimmed the roof tops, this is our story they declared, and they worshipped at his altar.
One day the workers found the doors locked and barred and the factory silent, its goods were now made in a foreign place, by cheaper workers, with cheaper technology. The mans wealth grew still further as the town fell into ruin, as the people realised, they were not part of his story, and he had never seen them that way.
For the workers employed were not assets but liabilities, the environment within which they lived merely a place to be plundered, the identity they built meaningless.
For we shape our world around that which we worship and our factory owner shaped his around his own economic well being.
Jesus’ hyperbole makes the choice clear, makes the stakes obvious, and makes the reality plain:
· For being shaped around the God Jesus points to is about loving each other, indeed the person we love the least is the measure of our love of God.
· Being shaped around the God Jesus points to is about welcoming the stranger, the disenfranchised, the excluded and the broken, those of no monetary value, for in His world people are always assets, never liabilities.
· Being shaped around the God Jesus points to undoes prejudice, neutralizes violence, and cares deeply for the natural world.
· Being shaped around the God Jesus points to is to not rank people as: she’s a care worker; she’s a GP; he’s unskilled; he is an accountant. No it is rank people as people, sister, brother, mother father, loved and beloved.
· For Being shaped around the God Jesus points is about living in love, for God is love and those who live in love live in God, whether the love of sister, or brother, father or mother, friend, or lover, gay or other, love is love and Jesus told us that we know love by its fruits and those fruits are the flourishing of the one who loves and is loved.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that we don’t need economics. Of course we do, Jesus uses economics in our Gospel reading. It can be – it has been – a force for tremendous good. But only if we keep its purpose in mind, and only if we shape ourselves around a richer, more whole, more fulfilling place. Equally don’t make the mistake of thinking that the church has it sussed, I despair often of the organisation, the institution, that we call church, with its petty cruelties, prejudices and failures. The church has too often shaped itself around its own hubris so protected the abuser, marginalised the persecuted, and been content with the pursuit of power.
No, what Jesus calls us to in this Gospel reading is to be shaped by a God, a God who is love, into a people who love well, a people who reflect a heavenly reality right here, and right now. A people whose world is about flourishing, and whose hope in the God who call us his own, that’s why it matters, it really matters.