Today, the question we want to go over together is this:
“What does it mean to be with one another?”
Today’s question has a lot to do with the way we are with God, which we went over last Sunday with the illustrations of prayer and friendship.
Our relationship with God inspires our relationship with one another. Prayer enables us to discover what it means to be enjoyed by God, which reshapes us as people who can enjoy other people, rather than simply use them. In other words, prayer enables us to love God and to love one another (Luke 10:27). This, as you know, is the greatest commandment which Jesus shared with us; and which is the mark of Christian discipleship. Both being inspired by prayer, loving God and loving one another are always coupled together and can never be separated. As Samuel Wells points, “the presupposition of church is that being with one another is being with God.”
Hate yo fam
The scripture we read this morning is often titled “The Cost of Discipleship.” There is a hefty cost for being Jesus’ disciples. In other words, there is a hefty cost for being with God and being with one another.
First, Jesus talks about hating our own family. The scripture seems to imply that if we do not hate our family, then we cannot be his disciple. However, hate is a strong word, a word that we do not often associate with Jesus himself.
So what does this mean for us?
Here, Jesus does not mean anger or hostility. Rather, hate should be understood on a comparative basis; so here, to hate means “to love less than the Lord.” So where it says, “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself,” Jesus is calling us to love these less than the Lord — or simply, to put God above our family.
This is extremely hard for many of us to hear. Our identity and self-worth are formed in the context of our family, whether for better or for worse. Just how we began our formation within our mother’s womb, our formation continues within the boundaries of our family. For many of us, our family, whatever and however it looks like, becomes our playground where we grow up, a comfortable and secure place where we find ourselves “home.”
But this “home” can also be our cage, a prison, where our identity and self-worth are confined within its boundaries.
There’s an old proverb in the East Asian tradition that goes like this: “A frog in a well does not know the great ocean,” 井の中の蛙大海を知らず. A frog in the bottom of a well thinks and knows everything within its boundaries is all there is in the world. There is no concept outside of what exists within the well. And this frog wouldn’t know what kind of possibilities are out there unless another frog from the outside world comes and shares. Even then, the frog in the well is reluctant to believe the outside frog’s stories and hesitant to leave the well to see the ocean with its very eyes.
There’s a similar story in the Western tradition as well, shared by none other than Plato. The story is called “The Allegory of the Cave.” Three prisoners are locked inside of the cave since birth. All they could see throughout their life besides the darkness was the wall and what was projected on the wall with a fire burning behind them. The shadows of different objects were projected on the wall and these illusions became their reality.
And then one of the prisoners was released. And what was revealed to the prisoner outside of the cave was the real world, full of light and objects in their true forms beyond shadows. The freed prisoner was fascinated by all this and decided to share the news with the fellow prisoners in the cave. But the other prisoners simply could not understand what this freed person was talking about and thought that he had become crazy.
In both stories, the well and the cave represent a place of familiarity and comfort, while also representing a place of darkness and ignorance.
And what I’m suggesting is that our family can very much be like this well and the cave. If the world within our family boundary is all we know and all we can see, then we are no different from the frog in the well and the prisoners in the cave.
For many of us here, there have been points in our lives where we’ve made tough decisions to leave our comfort zones to see, explore, and discover what’s out there — maybe it was going to school, taking a job in a new community, or simply extending a conversation to someone we don’t normally speak to. And we understand how formative these experiences have been for our personal growth.
See, this is what it means to hate “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.” Jesus’ call is to climb out from the well to see what the great ocean looks like. It is about breaking free and struggling towards the light, even if it costs us our family. It is about leaving behind what’s familiar and comfortable to us in order to follow Jesus Christ and to grow as his disciples.
Give up ur stuff
In the second half of today’s scripture, Jesus shares two short parables and then calls us to give up all our possessions.
Historically, possessions are closely tied to family. Especially when we think about Jesus’ time, there was no such thing as a self-made millionaire. Either you were born into a rich family or you were born into a poor family; or even worse, you were born into a slave family. In other words, family meant possessions and possessions meant family, regardless of how much or how little the family has. Perhaps we can relate to this as well with the term, “generational wealth,” that is both tangible and intangible. Thus, in light of such ties, Jesus’ call to hate family is synonymous to giving up all possessions, that is denying what is familiar, secure, and given to us in order to follow Jesus Christ.
Let’s go back to the two stories I shared earlier. If the frog in the well wanted to journey towards the ocean, the frog must know that the well is not all there is in the world and be willing to leave it behind. The frog must realize and be aware that its surroundings are nothing compared to the beauty and grandeur of the ocean. If not, the frog would continue to believe that the well is the most perfect habitat there is.
It’s the same for the two remaining prisoners in the cave. The decision to leave the cave would come once they realize that the world they live in is simply an illusion.
However, such a realization rarely comes on its own. It requires an outside force to challenge our basic assumptions, a glimmer of light to punch a hole in our sheltered world. The frog in the well got its opportunity to learn about the ocean when a frog from the outside world entered the well. The two prisoners in the cave got their opportunity when the freed prisoner came back to tell them what’s truly real.
When such opportunities arise in our own lives, how often are we willing to investigate the matter beyond what’s on the surface? How often are we willing to wrestle with these realizations and challenge our own assumptions? Such self-examination is what’s implied in Jesus’ words when he says give up all your possessions to become his disciples. It is about letting go of everything we possess and everything that possesses us. It is about following the call to break free and struggle towards the light. Ultimately, it is about partaking in a journey that requires not only our courage and determination but also the accountability and friendship of others.
Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.'s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots
What you need to know to start the day: Get New York Today in your inbox .] Only a tiny number of black students were…
A few months ago, there was national coverage around one of New York City’s public high schools. The city’s most selective public high school, Stuyvesant, admitted only 7 black students out of 895 entering freshmen. That’s less than a 1% admission rate in a school district that is 70% Black and Hispanic.
This is a school similar to Thomas Jefferson H.S. in our neighborhood in many ways. And one of the main ways students get into this school is through taking an admissions exam.
What struck me the most in this conversation around racial disparities at the school was how one of these seven black students got admitted to that very school.
This student shared that she didn’t know Stuyvesant existed until she was in fifth grade, when her teacher pulled her to the side and shared about its existence. The teacher recommended her to buy a Barron’s test prep book and start studying for the admissions exam; so that she would be prepared for the exam in three years when she was in the eighth grade.
But according to the student, this wasn’t and still isn’t the case for many other Black and Hispanic students. The reality is that the awareness of such schools is nonexistent among most Black and Hispanic Students. Either they never learn about the school or they learn about it too late, just before the admissions exam deadline.
And when comes the time for admissions exam, the students who did learn about the exam end up competing against white and Asians peers who often prepare for the exam months, if not years, in advance.
And according to this accepted student’s words, for whatever reason, she was the only one who got tapped on the shoulder.
We can see that this one tap on the shoulder was a glimmer of light that provided a new way and a new possibility for this student. And unlike the frog in the well or the two prisoners in the cave, this student was able to journey towards this new light with her courage and determination as well as the accountability and friendship of her teacher.
But the question, then, is why didn’t more students get tapped on their shoulders?
When I think about the image of people being with one another, I imagine that journey and relationship that led to that one tap on the student’s shoulder from her teacher. I imagine that the teacher was present with the student — through each day and through each lesson. I imagine that the teacher and the student enjoyed many normal moments together — checking attendance, turning in homework, eating lunch, and so on. And I imagine that this teacher was attentive to the student (as well as the others in the class) — making sure they were learning and equipped with what they needed to succeed, and making sure that they were enjoying their time at school. And ultimately, that one tap on the shoulder was birthed from the way this teacher delighted in the student’s presence for who she was.
What does it mean to be with one another?
And what does it look like when we are with one another as a church community?
We may all come from different family backgrounds, with different experiences with possessions, and with different understandings of who we are as persons.
And the church is a gathering of these people coming together for this journey of discipleship, leaving behind our basic assumptions, including our family, our possessions, and our world — moving towards and alongside the way, the life, and the truth that is Jesus Christ.
When we journey together towards a reconstruction of new life and a new community — regardless of our background, age, ethnicity/race, sex/gender, rich/poor — we shift our priorities and craft our new lives around the rhythm of this new community.
This is where people are present with one another, where people are attentive to another, where people see the mystery and potential in one another, where people tap on one another’s shoulder, where people become the bearer of light for one another, where people reveal bridges for one another, where people share stories with one another, where the gift of motherhood is exercised, received, and celebrated beyond just biological ties, where people enjoy one another’s presence just as we enjoy God’s presence, and where people come together regularly and habitually so that we can live our prayer and friendship together — so that we can be with God, enjoying God who enjoys us.
This is what it means to be with one another. Let us pray.