Children, especially younger ones, often define themselves in relation to their families. They identify themselves as sons and daughters, siblings, cousins and grandchildren. Their family relationships anchor them, providing certainty in a world that is not always reliable. But Jesus asks us to move beyond family bonds, drawing in those who we aren’t related to and even those we do not know. In this lesson, children will explore Jesus’ call to expand our definitions of family so that we might love all as fiercely and completely as we love our own families.
Begin your time with the children by asking them what it means to be a family. What is a family? How do you know someone is part of your family? How do you treat people you are related to? Note that we often define family as the people we are related to by blood, through adoption or through marriage. Sometimes people also consider close friends as part of their families. They might call them “framily” members. Still, these are people who they spend a lot of time with and who they know well.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Luke 14:25-33. Provide some context for the passage. Share that the children will be hearing a speech that Jesus gave to a group of people who were traveling with him. Jesus wants to help them look beyond the way that they are currently living to see how they might be more inclusive of people. He knows that their communities value some people more than others. Because of the positions these people have in the community or their wealth and influence, these individuals are treated better than others. Those who are without money or power are often ignored or may even be mistreated. Jesus encourages his followers to pull those who have been pushed out of the community back in. To help the people really understand his message, Jesus says some shocking things. He wants them to listen and to think about all the ways people divide themselves up into groups.
Read aloud Luke 14:25-33. After reading the text, ask the children if they were shocked by any of the statements Jesus made. If so, what does Jesus say to his followers that was alarming? Focus in on verse 26. Repeat it aloud for the children. Have them wonder what Jesus is saying in this sentence. It sounds as if Jesus is telling his disciples that they need to hate their families to be his followers. Encourage the children to react to this idea. Does Jesus really want people to stop loving their families?
Share with the children that Jesus does not, in fact, want his followers to hate their families! Remind them that the Bible was originally written in a different language. The New Testament portion of it was written in Greek. The word that has been translated here as hate does not mean hate in the way we think of it. Rather it means “to disregard.” Jesus is saying that his disciples must be willing to love others as much as they love their families. Just as people in that time valued those with power and wealth more than those without, they also valued their family members more than non-relatives. By loving all people in the community, especially those who are strangers or who were considered unimportant, our “family” becomes all of God’s people. Encourage the children to react to this idea. What do they think of Jesus’ statement? Can people love others the same way they love their families? What would it look like for all people to live this way?
Relating the passage to our lives
To help the children connect Jesus’ words to their own lives, walk them through this activity. Prepare the materials they’ll need: standard-sized blank paper and crayons or markers. Give each child a piece of blank paper. Tell them they’re going to explore what their “family” might look like under Jesus’ definition. Ask them first to draw pictures of or write the names of their family members in the center of the paper. Encourage them to leave lots of blank space around their family. Next, ask them to write or draw people they are close with who they are relatives. These might be friends, church members, neighbors, teachers or coaches, etc. Again, encourage them to leave a blank space on their paper. Then, have them imagine people they have not yet or may never meet. Encourage them to think of people living in different communities who have different lifestyles than them. Have the children write descriptions or draw pictures of these people. Finally, ask the children to think of people they do not like. These may be actual people they know or types of people they dislike. For instance, a child may say he doesn’t like someone at school who bullies other children, or he might focus on a generalized “category” of people such as murderers. Have the children write or draw these individuals on their sheet of paper.
When each child has completed his or her drawing, ask them to look at the collection of people represented on the page. Note that Jesus calls on us to love each of these people as we love our own family members. Have the children wonder about this. Would it be difficult? Why or why not? How would their lives change? How would the lives of those on the page change? Is such a world even possible? Why or why not?
Conclude your time together by offering a prayer. Ask each child to place their hand on their piece of art. Pray for each of the people on the page. Pray for each of us to be willing and able to know and share the love that Jesus spoke of in the Scripture passage.