For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.(Matthew 10:35-39)
Wow, we certainly don’t get a cheerleader Jesus or a Jesus who just wants to bring us uplift and emotional well-being in our quest for discipleship in these verses. We don’t get a status-quo-Jesus who says, “I’ve come to baptize the way things are and the way you are and have come so you can do the very least amount of discipleship possible and still get credit.” We don’t get the family-values-Jesus who comes to bless the Stepford family with their 2.2 children, white picket fence and a college fund and says, “This is the life I have in mind for you, so come and follow me.” Nor do we get the benign-neglect-Jesus who says, “The whole point of coming into the world, going the way of the cross, suffering, wrestling with the powers and the principalities and the darkest evil that exists in the world — I went through all that so you could hang onto this notion that the point of life is really about you and your fulfillment and so you can attain some level of spiritual satisfaction and acquire some notches on your personal pursuit of Christian achievement.”
Perhaps this is an unfair observation, but we American Christians – or better yet, Christians who happen to live in America – sometimes live with a Napoleonic complex with our crosses or even our big religious pronouncements, erroneously believing that the bigger the cross, the bigger our statement or advertisement or stage, the more significant our discipleship and the bigger the Christian. I am pretty sure there is no verse in that hymn that sings, “They shall know we are Christians, by how big our cross is,” or even, “They shall know we are Christians, by how big a statement we are making or how many spiritual practices we can acquire or how many socially conscious postures we can present.”
So the Jesus Matthew shows us does not come with a supersize cross or a sugary pep talk affirming how great we are and how we just need a little injection of spiritual achievement to set us straight and make us great disciples again. Nor does he come with a list of things for us to protest. Instead, we get a Jesus who says that he has come to reorganize, reorder and transform all of us from head to toe, even our most basic familial loyalties. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and whoever loves son or daughter is not worthy of me,” Jesus says.
We are not talking about loyalty to country or kneeling during the national anthem at football games. We are not talking about a hyper-partisan Supreme Court nomination process with everyone watching with their preconceived notions intact. We are talking about moms and dads and brothers and sisters and the nuclear family and Jesus telling us in very direct and stark terms that even our notions of family get undone and put back together again. That the community Jesus creates even trumps family. That water is thicker than blood. That the waters of baptism that create Christian community – that reflect that we are new creatures in Christ, that cause us to drop everything we are doing and leave our father’s house and follow –are thicker than blood, than family, than tribe, than political ideology, than all our other identities. If baptismal water is not thicker than blood, Jesus seems to be suggesting, then it it’s everybody for themselves. If water is not thicker than blood, then life is just a zero-sum game where we try to preserve what we can and stay on the winning side, where our worth can be reduced to how much we can get or what we can achieve or acquire or consume or win for ourselves.
It seems to me that the Christian community becomes redundant, powerless, uninteresting and maybe even unfaithful when we become largely a mirror of the larger culture and the larger culture wars, when all we have to say to the world is not all that different than what can be found on MSNBC or on Fox News.
Aren’t we to be more than a mirror that reflects back to the world all our existing divisions, our lack of unique witness and our propensity to prattle on mainly about us? Aren’t we to proclaim a gospel of a crucified and risen Lord that creates a community where water is thicker than blood, thicker than politics, thicker than tribe, thicker than nation, thicker than ideology, thicker than all our other personal preferences? To become a Christian community in and for the world, means that all of us, at our very most fundamental heart of hearts and basic building blocks, must be undone, again and again, with some fear and trepidation — undone by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then to be put back together, again and again by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, more deeply, more beautifully, and more superbly than we could ever ask or imagine or conceive on our own.
When that happens we become the people, the community and the church we already are eternally in Jesus Christ our Lord. We become a community where water is thicker than blood. We become a community that offers our world not a mirror, but a unique witness that transcends, subverts and transforms all our other tribes, bonds, commitments and loyalties. Living and becoming people that seek to be more than a mirror may be subversive and countercultural in these times, but it is liberating, joyful and full of hope. As Jesus tells us, we don’t find our lives in any of our own religious quests for salvation, fulfillment or even the right political commitments; we find our lives in giving them away and refusing to live as a boring mirror and reflection of our world’s divisions. Instead, through the waters of baptism we become the Body of Christ, willing to be undone and put back together, over and over again, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
CHRIS CURRIE is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, Louisiana.