Yesterday morning, I officiated at a sunrise wedding on the banks of the Tidal Basin. This afternoon, I officiated at a wedding in St. Mark’s historic nave. Tomorrow, I’ll join the throng at a wedding and offer a grace before the reception meal. The air is filled with love and family.
Earlier this morning, as a part of my daily devotions, I was led, I pray not perversely, but rather in the spirit of taking up a challenge, to look afresh at Jesus’ words: “Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife (to which I add, given my egalitarian streak, husband or partner) and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself cannot be my disciple.”
I believe that love (described by Apostle Paul as, “patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude, that bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things”) is the fundamental family value. However, Jesus’ words, sticking in my craw and hard to swallow, suggest that hate might be one, too.
Seeking comfort in the original text, the Greek word translated “hate” (miseō) can mean “to love less.” Ah, a blessed bit of ambiguous wiggle-room! When anything clashes with my discipleship, I need not hate it, just love it less. That I can do!
But my comfort is short-lived, for “hating” or “loving less” isn’t about attitude, but action. It’s not how I feel, but what I do. “Paul,” I hear Jesus saying, “please, feel whatever you like, but when a conflict arises between anything else and your discipleship, you must choose me.” And when the “anything else” is family, the difficulty deepens. For though I find within my formative years the roots of some of my abiding woundedness and ongoing soul-deep wrestling, family, nevertheless, both symbolically and existentially, is the ground of my being, the foundation of my history, and a guide to my destiny.
As I ponder all this, I perceive Jesus’ admonition as a beacon illuminating a tension between what I value (where I find my selfhood, my identity and security) symbolized by family and a larger life beyond the comfortable bounds of my self symbolized by discipleship. This tension, more deeply, exists between my life as shaped by my values and my discipleship that constantly calls into question my values, which always inherently are self-oriented. Living amid this tension, I need to hold on to what I value lest I lose my sense of who I am and I need to hold on to Jesus who bids I follow him lest I lose my sense of who I am to become.
For me, it’s about meaning, about making sense of my life. I can find it in my closest, dearest relationships of family. I also can find it outside of me in moments when life’s mystery overwhelms me. Moments when I sense something far greater than (or at least as real as) anything I know. To wit, there is meaning in who I know myself to be and in what I wish I was, but am not yet, revealed in moments of mystery when the difference between my real and ideal selves comes to light. To follow Jesus is to live holding on to the real and reaching for the ideal, always being prepared to hate, to love less, to relinquish the real that the ideal may become real.
This, at least, is what I think…today.