What defines you?


Potter, Pieter Symonsz., approximately 1597-1652. Trash in a Yard’s Corner, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

“Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.'”
Luke 14:25-33 (NRSV)

If there was a passage in scripture that leads people down the path of qualification and reservation surely this one lands within the top five or ten. Hating family and giving up of one’s possessions will lead any pastor, teacher or bible study leader to perform all sorts of mental and hermeneutical gymnastics.

What struck me this time as I read this passage was the seeming discontinuity between Jesus telling his followers to give up family and then conclude with giving up possessions. How are these two connected?

To me it seems family and possessions are two of the most important things we use to define who we are.

This was even more important in the ancient world, especially when possessions were more expensive and not as disposable as much of the items we buy today are. Just take the story of Joseph in the Old Testament for example. His technicolor robe was given to him by his father. That robe showed that Joseph was loved by his father and part of the family. Both of those get stripped away as the robe is taken from him by his brothers and he his sold into slavery. Joseph essentially becomes a “nobody” when he has neither family nor possessions. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the son is welcomed back with a robe and his father’s signet ring which demonstrated who’s family he was a part of.

So, by telling his followers to give up these two things (family and possessions) Jesus is essentially asking his followers to redefine and re-understand who they are in light of following Jesus and becoming his disciples. Jesus is asking his followers to not be defined by who their family is and what they have in their closet/garage/cupboards/dressers/dinner plates.

Family can mean a lot of different things as our family can define a lot about who we are. Our family often locates us in a cultural, religious, economic and possibly even political sphere. And this can go beyond even our nuclear family. Sometimes we move into a new “sphere” but we will often adopt a new family that helps define who we are in the space. New friends and acquaintances often take the space of family that we’ve moved away from religiously, economically and politically.

Ultimately both of these are summed up into the command to, “carry the cross.” The cross as a sign of scorn, shame, public humiliation, rejection, impurity, impiety, and retribution against those who try to operate outside a culture and system that depends on our allegiance to our family and possessions. When you no longer define yourself by who your family is and what you can purchase, society and culture has a hard time understanding who you really are and what to do with you.

Now, I’m going to “yeah, but” this a bit and encourage you to NOT actively disband and turn your back on your family or even throw all your possessions outside on the street. But, instead, encourage you to consider how much you define yourself by what and who you are surrounded with rather than seeing yourself in light of Jesus.

A family (nuclear, church or otherwise) that is united in this, against the scorn and shame of the culture, can do amazing and miraculous things.


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