Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ask Jesus to pass the ketchup

Disturbed00 offers a strange and oft-repeated* challenge:
Christians: ... what about the fact that Jesus (your son of God, Lord of Lords, etc) saying that you must hate your parents, family, etc if you wish to be his disciple? As stated in Luke 14:26. Why must you hate? Your God and savior said this and it is obviously perfect and not up to interpretation, it must be followed...the word in the scripture is miseo, which means "HATE".
Disturbed00 is correct that the Greek word Jesus uses** in Luke 14:26 when he says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple," means "hate". I touched on this one before but never gave it a full run, so what better time than tonight? I'm pretty tired of studying the Williamite Wars anyway.

But first, I would like to offer a statement from a famous Anglican clergyman, Jonathan Swift, who modestly proposed that the problems of overpopulation in Ireland could be solved in a very clever manner:
[T]he remaining hundred thousand [infants] may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.
One can run through all manner of dictionaries, checking every word, and never detect therefrom that Swift is proposing anything other than that the excess children of Ireland be literally fattened up and eaten by the rich. And yet is that truly the case? Let the reader decide, but only after understanding the real problems that Swift had dealt with in other places.

That Jesus is using a similar rhetorical tool ought to be obvious for a number of reasons, the first being that literally hating one's parents has never been a big part of the zeal of the newly converted. One will look in vain for first-century mobs slaughtering their parents in obedience to the plain words of Jesus. Why is that? Because his audience, sharing his Semitic culture, understood that wasn't really what he was proposing.

They may have looked back to Gen 29:30-31 and found there that Jacob "loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with [Laban] yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated..." It's the same word - when the Jews translated their Hebrew into the Greek Septuagint they used "miseo" too - but the context obviously illustrates a figure-of-speech parallel between "hated" and "loved less." Leah was "hated" relative to the love shown another, but it does not mean that Jacob wished to kill Leah. It doesn't even mean that he didn't continue to love her.

Or they may have just looked at the broader context of what Jesus was teaching, that there is a real cost to discipleship that must be borne, and understood the figure of speech that Jesus is using here. One must love one's parents - such is a natural and assumed part of the passage - and yet to be a disciple one must love Jesus more, follow Jesus more, obey Jesus more. One must be willing to set aside something, even something as dear as familial love, placing them in a secondary relative position just as Jacob placed Leah second.

To say that the words of Jesus are "not up to interpretation" is just as silly as saying the words of Swift must likewise be taken literally. No one - not Jesus, not Swift, not you, not me - speaks literally all the time and maybe, as we might notice if we were to really pay attention, even most of the time.

* by which I mean that I doubt he was reading Luke one day and thought, "Hmm ... this doesn't make sense." He obviously got it from a site that caters to this sort of thing.

** Ignoring just for the moment that even in Luke this is probably a translation, as Jesus spoke Aramaic rather than Greek.

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