Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jesus at His "Hyperbolic" Best: The New "Rules of the Game" of God's Kingdom

In today's Gospel for Mass, Jesus is at his "hyperbolic" best: he tells a large crowd that was following him, "if anyone comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." As much as these words seem "jarring" to us in the 21st Century, they would have been even more "over the top" to Jesus' hearers. It's important to note that Jesus' audience were very "communitarian" and family oriented. Tight connections between family members and the larger community forged bonds that ensured survival and prosperity. Some scripture scholars debate whether Jesus actually used a word as strong as "hate". Regardless of the exact word Jesus used, it would have certainly "shook" the foundational presumptions of his audience, just as it continues to do so to this very day.

The question that this teaching begs is, "did Jesus actually mean that we should hate?" How are we to take this teaching? It is perhaps most fruitful to approach this teaching not literally (of course) but through the lens of "hyperbole". Hyperbole is a literary device that exaggerates for the sake of evoking strong emotions or to make a strong impression. What Jesus is likely trying to impress on his hearers is that the conventional "rules" of the game of life and society are being "turned upside down" by God. Jesus' teachings immediately prior to this one all challenge the "conventional way" of doing things (see Chapter 14). This teaching would seem to be the "icing" on the cake of the teachings that immediately precede it.

So, we might now pose the question, what are the "new rules of the game?" The new rules of the "game of God's Kingdom" is that the old rules of discriminating who is "in" versus who is "out" based on bloodlines, socio-economic status, class, religious observance, and any other discriminatory criteria is rendered null and void and that all are called, welcomed, and embraced at the banquet table of the Kingdom. Further, those who are vulnerable, poor, and disadvantaged are to be shown preferential treatment and given priority of place at the table (again, see Jesus' teaching immediately prior to the one in today's Gospel).

Far from being a teaching on hate, when viewed through the lens of hyperbole and the teachings that precede it, Jesus' message in today's Gospel is a teaching on how to love the way that God loves: without discrimination, without hesitation, and with the divine compassion that embraces all, especially those who are least and lowest. Pat, TOR


Anonymous said...

This is an amazing post! I am unable to attend Holy Mass, but I read the readings of the Mass in my little 'Magnificat' magazine. I can't tell you how much joy and clarity your post gave me! Thank you & God bless you!

Laurel said...

God is love...thank you for your excellent explanation! I will share this with my bible study at St. Gerard's. We miss you!