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Should I hate my wife?

September 3, 2016

I’m just getting ready to preside at two weddings. Two lovely couples have prepared and are ready to commit the rest of their lives to each other. These commitments are commitments of love. This love, strengthened by God, is given as the foundation of not only marriage but also of family life. There is a beautiful passage from the preface to the marriage service which sums this up well:

“Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.”

I’m back again. My mind’s been wandering. I’ve been remembering the two rehearsals earlier in the week, all the excitement and expectation with just a drop of terror! I’m smiling.

Then Sunday’s reading comes to mind and my smile goes. I remember these words, “‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14.26 NIV)

How do those words from the preface fit with Jesus telling them to hate their wife, husband, children, mother and father? It doesn’t make sense. I’ll have a look at the Bible again, I really need some help. I read and I find Psalm 127.3 where children are clearly a blessing from God. I read the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20.1-17) again and straight away I’m told to honour my father and my mother. I can’t find anything telling me to hate my family. I read the sentence from the Bible that I’ll read just as we start those wedding services, “God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” (1 John 4.16). Again I only find a God who calls me to love.

I read and I struggle. I struggle because I thought Jesus’ commandment was to love not hate. I struggle, I worry and I suspect that I’m not alone. What is Jesus doing? Has he lost it? Has the heat and the pressure got to him?

So I step back again and pray. I wait on the Spirit. I pray some more and my mind goes to a little earlier in Luke’s Gospel, to Luke 10.27 where Jesus summed up all the law of God as, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’

Again I find Jesus telling me and my wedding couples to love, not hate. Even one of the other readings for tomorrow says, “Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.” (Philemon 8-9 NIV) Paul realises that love is so much at the heart of being a follower of Jesus that he trusts to love above his rights as an apostle.

 So how on earth does this fit with Jesus saying, “‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple?’” (Luke 14.26 NIV)

Has Paul got it wrong?

Then it came to me. I looked around and got the feeling that the Spirit was laughing at me. I can be so slow, so stupid. Jesus is laughing too. His words have done what they were intended to do. They gave me a shock; they made me stop and think.

I could explain what I’ve just realised but I’ll let a different Bible translation say it for me, “You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life.” (Luke 14.26 CEV)

Of course Jesus doesn’t want me to hate Viv, or my daughter. Of course Jesus doesn’t want those wedding couples to come into church all full of love and smiles, only to leave again hating the sight of each other! Jesus, just wants me (and everyone who wants to follow him) to realise what that following him might cost. Jesus is saying that if I follow him I need to love God first above all else. That’s radical enough. Then I think back over the years that I’ve been following Jesus. I think back and realise that I’ve become more loving over those years. I love God first but I’ve been given far more love in return. Moment by moment, year after year the Spirit has been pouring love into me, infinite love, not my puny human love.

All becomes clear. Jesus wants me to love and to be filled with love. He knows that if I’m half-hearted I will get in the way of his love.

So, now I can smile and let Jesus’ words sound loud and clear, “You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life.” (Luke 14.26 CEV)

I had to pause to take those weddings before I could upload this post. They both went so well; lots of tears and smiles, lots of laughter too.

 I’m just about to press “Publish” and I hear a faint chuckle. It’s good to make Jesus laugh. I’m relieved about that – I seem to be doing it a lot lately!

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