Can we imagine the conflict and turmoil that upset the families of those men and women who accepted Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, as the Messiah? Can’t we just hear family and friends saying, “Are you out of your mind?” Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Who ever heard of such nonsense? Call the Rabbi and get him to talk some sense into this person. The Scribes or Pharisees wouldn’t have anything to do with this Nazarene. They were the ones who had him executed and put an end to his nonsense. The disillusioned follower of Christ could be the father, the wife, a son or a daughter or any member of the extended family. Whoever they were they were turning their backs, deserting the faith that went back generations in favour of a wandering preacher and do-gooder. It was same reaction today as if your son or daughter told you they joined Scientology.
In the time of Jesus to separate oneself from one’s family or clan is literally a matter of life and death. People of substance and influence would lose everything by associating with the wrong kind of people, the likes of people Jesus attracted.
Joining Jesus’ group also jeopardized one’s relations with the very large kinship network formed by marriage, a network far larger than the biological family. This is where the in-laws and other such family members enter the picture. Jesus is telling like it is, or will be, for those who choose to follow him.
Some of those first followers of Jesus had been deeply touched by what he had to say. They were impressed by the way he treated the little people of the land. He had time for them, he listened to them and he broke bread with them. There were occasions when he worked miracles and people would say, ‘never have we seen anything like this.’ Most importantly Jesus told them time and time again that they were precious to God and loved by God.
But family members and neighbours were shocked that anyone could possibly believe that this man Jesus, executed as a common criminal, hung from a cross, could the one the chosen people of God had been hoping and praying about for centuries.
Jesus became a dividing force in many families in his day. He demanded that his followers leave the past behind, anyone who loves father or mother, brother or sister more than me is not worthy of me. Leave the dead to bury the dead, you come with me.
This is not the reality of our time. It is true we have fellow Christians suffering for their faith in countries where Islamic religious fanatics want to wipe out any expression of faith other than their own. For most of us our faith can be compared to comfortable slippers we wear with ease. We never feel challenged or threatened.
But how do these words of Jesus have an impact on our lives? How could we bear witness to the teaching of Christ today? We do when we stand up and work for social justice, when we call for respect of all peoples human dignity and worth, when we respect other peoples beliefs, cultures, social standing and life styles.
We do so when we live lives less dominated by greed and possessiveness. We do so when we take the teachings and example of Christ seriously and make difficult decisions about our lifestyles, the way we spend and what we buy, what we want and what we need. We do so when we make ourselves – more conscious of the injustices of our economic systems, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We do so when we allow the brazen sense of entitlement of some of our politicians to be a mirror to us and that makes us question our own sense of entitlement to the good life. We do so when we make just and honest business decisions that could alienate us from business partners. We do so when we show ourselves open and welcoming to a new neighbour setting us apart from other neighbours who are not happy with ‘these people’ coming into ‘our’ neighbourhood. We do so when we support efforts to protect life in all its stages.
The question for all of us today, hearing the words of Jesus is, are we willing to pay the cost of discipleship, a cost that may separate us from family and friends but a cost that keeps us faithful to Christ? There is an interesting question that asks,’ if you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?