Monthly Archives: November 2009

‘Love’ and Discipleship in the Gospel of John

Here’s a question for you: Does the use of “love” in John match the use of “hate” in Luke?

That is far too broad (and probably inaccurate) a question to ask. My question is specifically about John 21:15-17, in which Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

As explored in my last post, in Luke 14:26 μισέω (“hate”) is used as a term of renunciation, renouncing one’s family as the foundation of security, belonging, and living and taking on Jesus as that foundation instead. In this sense, to hate my family means not that I harbor psychological hostility toward it, but that I no longer belong to/with my family, but belong to/with Jesus.

With this in mind, my question is: Since “love” is usually regarded as the opposite of “hate,” does Jesus’ question in John 17 have anything to do with the call to discipleship? Is this three-fold question of love a way of reinstating Peter as a disciple after he denied Jesus three-fold? Does “love” in this context mean the opposite of what “hate” means in Luke 14? In other words, does “love” in John 17 mean “proclamation of loyalty and belonging” while “hate” in Luke 14 means “renunciation of loyalty and belonging”?

I’ll be barking up this tree for the next week or so. Stay tuned.


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‘Hate’ and Following Jesus in Luke 14

When it comes to his teachings about discipleship, Jesus says some pretty difficult things. In Luke 14, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters — and even himself — he is not able to be my disciple” (14:26).

This statement seems to contradict ‘nicer’ things said by Jesus, such as: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:47), or “And just as you would wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31).

Why this talk of hating? Μισέω is typically translated as “hate.” According to BDAG, μισέω can also mean, to “disfavor, disregard in contrast to preferential treatment” (BDAG 653 §2; cf.Matt 6:24, Lk 16:13, John 12:25, Rom 9:13). (LSJ doesn’t give any sources in support of this un-preferential treatment.) In I. Howard Marshall’s opinion, μισέω “is usually said to have its Semitic sense, ‘to love less’” (Marshall, 592; cf. Gen 29:31-33, Deut 21:15-17, 2 Sam 19:7, Prov 13:24, Isa 60:15, Mal 1:2, Rom 9:13, 1 John 2:9). This is detectable in Matthew’s parallel: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37-38).

In this way, μισέω isn’t a psychological hostility, but a renunciation, a disowning, or rejection (Marshall, 592; TDNT IV, 690). As a person chooses to follow Jesus, to become his disciple, he or she must sever the natural connections and obligations he or she has toward father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, and to renounce even himself/herself. According to Bonhoeffer, “By calling us [Jesus] has cut us off from all immediacy with the things of this world. He wants to be the centre; through him alone all things shall come to pass” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 95). Such a separation would be extremely disorienting. As Carson Brisson comments,

These words enter a cultural setting in which an individual was primarily defined, from birth through death, by her or his family. In such a milieu, this saying sounds a call for individuals and the community of faith to embrace discipleship to Jesus as their new and ultimate basis for personal and corporate identity (cf. 8:19-21). Such a call would have presented a radically impractical choice, not simply an emotionally difficult one, and a nearly impossible act in a cultural setting in which contemporary definitions of freedom as individual self-assertion and many contemporary forms of economic support outside one’s family system did not exist. . . . If God’s invitation is so urgent and so absolute that an individual’s family ties no longer form the basis of her or his identity, what is left that discipleship may not require? (Brisson, Carson. Luke 14:26-27. Interpretation, 61 no 3 Jl 2007: 311)

The answer is, of course, “nothing.” There is no more to give after a disciple renounces even his/her own life. To make this ominously clear, Jesus states, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and comes after me is not able to be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Luke uses this language elsewhere, in 9:23 in which Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The cross is, of course, and ultimately, a death sentence. Here, though, the cross also communicates the manner of life those who follow Jesus can expect – namely, one of shame and suffering. Just imagine, if we find it difficult today in our own time and culture to step outside the bounds of what our family members expect from us, how much more difficult would this task be within the bounds of the shame-honor culture of first-century Judea? But Jesus doesn’t call us to an easy life. He calls us to a life submitted completely to him. This is why the apostles refer to themselves as δοῦλος τοῦ Ἰσοῦ Χριστοῦ, “slave of Jesus Christ.” The life I live is not to be my own. In following Jesus’ call, I give up my right to direct my own life. It’s a total submission, an absolute resignation of self-sovereignty. If I declare that Jesus is Lord (κύριος), then that declaration has something to say about me too — that I am his servant, his slave. Jesus becomes the anchor of our new reality. He is the mediator through whom we relate to the world and other people. No longer am “I” the lowest common denominator, but Jesus instead.

Ultimately, this order to “hate” is a declaration of where life is found. Am I so certain that there is more life to be found in my familial relations than in Jesus, or more life in wealth or in the other forms of security this world can offer? Or am I willing to let go of absolutely everything to which I previously clung to cling singularly to the one who offers life like no other can?

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Joyeux Noël and the Death of War

Since I wasn’t able to attend a memorial service this year, I decided to observe Remembrance Day by watching a couple of movies that bear witness to the sacrifice and suffering of those who fought on behalf of their countries. One of these movies was Joyeux Noël. This film joyeux_noelwas particularly good at portraying the hardship and anguish of soldiers in the trenches of World War I. In this story, three generals — German, French, and Scottish — along with their units, are brought together by the celebration of Christmas.

In the dreary dark of Christmas Eve, a German officer who before the war had been a vocalist in Berlin, sang “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). Close by in their own trenches, the French and the Scots listened to the hopeful song of the German singer. The Scots joined in with their bagpipes, and soon, all the soldiers left their trenches to meet one another in peace on the battle field.

There they shared stories of home and tears for loss they had already incurred thus far in battle. Many even exchanged addresses with the intent of taking up friendship again once the mess of war had ended. At the high point of this meeting, the Scottish priest led the who assembly in the Christmas midnight mas. Participating together, they were no longer enemies, but fellow men who were all here by the same unfortunate circumstances, forced into combat by the will of their homelands. This was a really striking picture of peace that can come by love in Christ — even in the midst of war.

During the mas, the artillery fire booming in the distance reminded all that though they might forget war in the moment, the war had certainly not forgotten them. At this, they exchanged greetings of “Merry Christmas” and “good luck,” and returned to their trenches.

One of the most memorable scenes is one in which the German singer-now-soldier confronts his general, asking if they must go on to kill again now that they had truly come to know those they had regarded enemies. He said, “To die tomorrow is even more absurd than to die yesterday.” How foolish it would seem, having now experienced the peace of Christmas Eve, to die by the hands that offered friendship only the night before?

This war was to be the War to End All Wars. But really, going to war can’t truly cause the end of war. The only thing capable of ending war, as was so grandly demonstrated in Joyeux Noël, is the peace that comes through love in Christ. Let love be the foreign policy that guides nations in their dealings with one another. Let love be the ‘war’ that is fought, and it really will be the War to end all others.

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