Here's my response to this week's challenge:
This week's challenge: Jesus was not a nice guy.
He was a narcissist, wasn't he? I mean, Jesus asked people to abandon their families and follow him, and it's all about him. Right? So Jesus is anti-family values.
Okay. Well, I guess here's my first response. When the skeptic raises an objection like this, I guess here's my question: Have you ever thought about why millions upon millions upon millions of Christians have never taken Jesus in that kind of way? They haven't taken his statements that you're taking and kind of reach the same conclusion that you have. I mean, these are people who take Jesus seriously, who have done a lot of study, who are kind of on the inside, have maybe given Jesus' words a little more thought. Why don't they take it this way?
I want to offer that to try and get the skeptic, I guess, to be a little more fair-minded.
Let me give you an analogy to maybe help you understand this.
Let's say I'm at home and my kids, who have grown up with me, who know me, know me well, they hear me say to my wife, "Erin, you drive me crazy!" Or they hear me say, "Erin, get out of here."
Now, my kids, are they going to think, when they hear that from Dad, are they going to think that I mean that my wife is actually driving me psychologically insane? Or do they think that I mean I want my wife to pack up her stuff and get out of the house immediately?
No, of course not. Why not?
Well, there's two really important things that they have kind of going for them that will help them kind of interpret my statements.
Number one, they have a larger context of my life and what I've said in which to fit these statements in. Then, there's not only that larger context but there's also the more immediate context of what just going on beforehand. Right? So if I was being sarcastic or joking around with my wife and I said, "Erin, get out of here," they would know not to interpret that literally.
In the same way, when we look at Jesus' words, we do the same thing. We put them in their larger context of his life and teaching and then we look at the immediate context. We realize we would never take Jesus in this kind of way.
So first, the larger context of Jesus' teaching is that he's very pro-family. I mean you look at Matthew 19. Jesus upholds the sanctity of marriage. Right? The marriage and relationship between husband and wife is so sacred. He talks about honoring father and mother. Elsewhere in the New Testament which, of course, we believe is authored by Jesus through the human authors, Jesus speaks to the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3. It talks about children obeying your parents. In Ephesians 6 he talks about parents not provoking your kids, and on and on and on.
When you look at the overall context, the larger context of Jesus' life, his ministry, his teaching, you realize that Jesus is very pro-family. He's not a narcissist. He doesn't say, "Just ditch your family for me." No. There is this larger context of him being very pro-family.
Secondly, we have to take the individual statements that Jesus makes and then kind of work hard to interpret them accurately.
So you have a passage like Matthew 12, where Jesus talks about who is my brother and sister? Who is my mother? And he points to the disciples and he says, "These are my brothers and sisters," and people say, "Well, look. He's denigrating the family relationships here in this passage." But that's not what he's doing. What Jesus is doing is he is helping us to understand that, kind of theologically speaking, physical relationships aren't the most important relationships. Spiritual relationships are. And that, indeed, in God's kingdom, there isn't an actual casting off of the family; there is actually a growing of the family. There's a larger family so that, yes, I still have special obligations to Mom and Dad and to brothers and sisters and to my family ties, but there's this larger family I'm also a part of and it's a spiritual family, as we are all adopted into the family of God.
He is not denigrating the family there. He is just saying, "Hey, look. There's a larger family. It's the family of God."
Then you take a passage like Luke 14:26 where Jesus says that we are to hate our family above him. You know? Love him and hate our family? What does that mean?
Well, again, when we look at the context there, the context is the cost of discipleship. Jesus is just communicating that to follow him requires that you love him above all things, even your family. All right? So there is a context there that suggests your primary allegiance is to him, not your family. So if your family takes you away from him, your priority is Jesus.
And when you look at the word "hate" there, Jesus is not using the word 'hate' the way maybe we commonly understand it. He's not talking about an emotional anger we have towards somebody. "Hate" here is used figuratively to communicate preference or priority. So he's saying you give Jesus, you give him, your priority, your preference, over the love for anyone else. That doesn't mean you don't love your family. It just means he is your first love. In the Christian view of things, when you do that, the result is transformation of the individual person such that you actually become a better family member.
I believe that my allegiance to Jesus, my love for Jesus, does a number of things to me. It certainly gets the focus off myself and my own selfishness and causes me to look outside of myself, first to Jesus, and in that relationship with him, he changes me so that I end up becoming a better father, a better husband.
So when you take a fair look at what Jesus said, you look at it within the larger context of his teaching, and you understand accurately what he says in each of these kinds of statements, you realize that Jesus was very pro-family. He wasn't a narcissist. And we answer another challenge.