TENDER LOVE AND TOUGH MIND
LUKE 14 : 25 – 33
True love requires an intensely tough mind. Such toughness is so intense that sometimes it feels almost like hate. We should not ignore this, though this probably is one of the most difficult aspects in the art of loving. Jesus in today”s Gospel is telling us that if we do not deal with this love/hate relationship, we do not really understand his love. The lesson from Jeremiah also makes the similar point about the difficult demands God makes of people, like a potter who smashes up imperfect pots and remoulds them until he sees perfection.
The backdrop of the story in today”s Gospel was Jesus” final journey to Jerusalem where he died on a cross. By then he was an enormously popular man. He was always followed by a large crowd of people. But were they all truly dedicated followers of Christ? Some of them might have been. But, the majority were not. In fact, many of them soon turned their backs on Jesus and became the very crowd that demanded the death of Jesus. Jesus put a difficult test to them so that they would realize how tough it is to be true disciples.
The test was, indeed, tough. Most of us do not understand what he meant at a first glance. He said, "Anyone, who does not hate father and mother, brother and sister, himself or herself, and does not carry the cross with me, is not my true disciple." It sounds like a complete reversal of everything Jesus stood for. We don”t understand why he used the word "hate".
In the case like this, I usually look at the same story in other Gospels, like Matthew and Mark. They used a little milder expression to say the same thing. Jesus said, "If you do not love me more than you love your father and mother, etc." Difference in language shows that Luke felt more strongly about the point that Jesus was making than other writers of the Gospels. In other words, Luke felt it so strongly, that a negative word like ”hate” was necessary to make the same point.
We must realize that hate is not the opposite of love. Love”s opposite is apathy, or lack of care. Hate, like love, is a powerful emotion that takes over your whole being. Yes, hate is extremely negative. But if you don”t care, you don”t hate. It is why love often causes negative emotions like jealousy or hate. Some Old Testament literatures even describes God”s love by saying, "God is a jealous God." This is no puppy-love.
What then does it mean to love Jesus more than to love anyone else? If you love Jesus intensely, you will be shocked to see the contrast between his enormous capacity to love and our way. The difference shows up so starkly that it is like looking at yourself in a very sharp uncompromising mirror. If it is a good mirror, it shows us in detail. It does not necessarily flatter us. You can”t be fooled by what you think you look like and how you really appear. Jesus was an embodiment of perfect love and a perfect human being. By loving Jesus, we see an honest refection of ourselves in contrast to a perfect model of human being.
Likewise when we look at our parents, our spouse, our children, and ourselves in comparison to the best model of human being, Jesus Christ, of course, we will find them lacking. There are some people who are exemplary, but most of them are still far from perfect. Yes, we do admire most parents for the way they love their children. Yes, there are many saint-like people whose sacrificial dedication to good causes is amazing. But we still believe that God”s love shown in the life and death of Jesus Christ is far superior to any human examples, even of Mother Teresa or of Albert Schweitzer.
If we ignore what is lacking in us, we are in danger of making an idol out of something that is less than perfect. That would be very dangerous, because that lets us create a world of illusions and live in lies. But it is extremely difficult to name the problems in our intimate relationships, especially when we love each other. But an important test of relationship is whether one can deal with something imperfect in a loving fashion. Ignoring the problems of your loved ones is not kindness. Indulgence by ignoring problems is a weakness, a lesser love and a beginning of a dangerous relationship. Parents often make that mistake by ignoring the children”s problems and by continuing to believe that their kids are perfect. There are many extremely kind and loving persons, who ignore the problems and continue to be nice to people they love. It is very difficult to tell them that their softness in love, in the end, is unkind. True love is tender but tough. I know a woman in my family in Japan who is married to an alcoholic. It is so very difficult to tell her that she must be tough, because she is very kind and obviously loves her husband. I feel rotten to have to tell her the reality of life.
By telling us to love him more than we love anybody else, Jesus meant to tell us that if we truly love anyone, we must name the problems honestly and deal with them squarely. Because there is no human being who is perfect, by loving Christ as the perfect model of our life, we should be able to deal with the problems of our imperfection. Love is the tenderest thing. But a true love is also tough. It does not encourage cheating reality. It faces reality and deal with it. Love is courageous and tough. Tender love requires a tough mind. Loving is not cheap, not just sugar and honey. You identify the problems by looking at the Christ mirror, and name them and deal with them.
Remember; Jesus was led to the cross by those who believed in cheap love. They believed in him as a popular magician, or a politician who would give them what they wanted. They did not want to see the tough side of God”s plan and terrible sacrifice required by God. They wanted milk and honey without the wilderness nor the crossing of the river. Cheap love can turn one into a traitor overnight. This is why Luke felt strongly enough to use the word like ”hate”, to stress the importance of looking reality right in the eyes, and hating the shortcomings one is bound to see in any human being. It was an act of the hatred of sinfulness that Luke was talking about, and not the hatred of persons. True love does not allow for avoiding of reality. This is why Paul said, "Love rejoices in truth."
King Lear, in a Shakespeare”s play, did not understand this. He disinherited the youngest daughter Cordelia and banished her. He thought that she did not love him, because she said things he did not want to hear. Yet, she loved him truly thus spoke the truth without fear. He did not like that. Often truth is harsh. So he divided kingdom into two and gave them to the other two daughters, who were all sweet on the surface, but who, in the end, betrayed him. By the time the king realized the true nature of Cordelia”s love, it was too late. She was murdered.
We see from time to time some tragedies in relationships, not so much because people hate each other, but because their love was not tough enough to confront reality, and because they ignored their problems. Let us remember that in our journey through this life, we must learn love”s toughness as well as its tenderness.