What do we do when Jesus is the ‘loose end’? What are those sections in the Gospel that we can have a tendency to gloss over? What words of Jesus do you hear and sort of cringe about? This starts with being honest with the text rather than avoiding, minimizing, reducing or dismissing.
David continues our Loose Ends Series by addressing a common source of confusion with the teachings of Jesus-his use of hyperbole. For instance, when Jesus says in Matthew that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”.
This use of hyperbolic language has been difficult for some believers because of how they read the Bible. David reminds us that the Bible is not a “flat text” that lacks nuances, personality, figures of speech. When we read the Bible as such, we are in danger of missing Jesus in the text because Jesus was not a flat character- he was a real man in the Middle East, with his own personality.
David shows us how we’re accustomed to the use of hyperbole in advertising and when we talk to kids. He shows us that our brains can categorize different texts based on genre and figures of speech and this is good for us as we read the Bible- especially when it comes to hyperbole. Referencing a helpful definition from Seneca, a Roman historian during the life of Jesus that “hyperbole asserts the incredible in order to arrive at the credible”, David helps us see that Jesus’ use of incredible language was strategic to help us understand the credible reality of his Kingdom coming near.
To help us become more confident as we look at hyperbolic statements in the Bible, David gave us four criteria to help us understand Jesus’ meaning and intent.
1: Statements that are literally impossible, like the camel going through the eye of a needle.
2: Statements which conflicts with something Jesus says elsewhere in the Bible.
3: Statements that conflict with the behavior and actions of Jesus elsewhere.
4: Statements which the audience members did not interpret literally.
We then looked at one loose end that causes some confusion because of the strength of Jesus’ language:
Luke 14:26 says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple.”
It seems as if Jesus is communicating outright hatred and rejection of our earthly families, but we know this is hyperbolic language. When funneled through the criteria of understanding hyperbole, we can see that criteria:
2: Statement in which conflict with something Jesus says elsewhere in the Bible. For we know that Jesus taught his disciples to “love their neighbor” and if anyone is our neighbor, it is family.
3: Statement that conflicts with the behavior and actions of Jesus elsewhere. For Jesus modeled deep love for his own mother when, as he was dying on the cross, he commended her care to the disciple John.
David goes on to help us see that Jesus’ use of the incredible-hatred of our families, was to help us see the credible-loving God first and more than our families because out of that life giving relationship we can love everyone wholeheartedly. Jesus is asking for all of our obedience. Disciples cannot have divided loyalties or hearts. Jesus wants his disciples to love God with their whole hearts so that they can wholeheartedly love their neighbors.
This wholehearted love of God that flows into our earthly relationships isn’t easy. We can come up with excuses or fears that keep us from fully loving God. Which is why David encouraged us with a story from his time in Israel. When the hikes were exhausting and overwhelming-the ones ahead would look back and cry out, “Hazak” a Jewish encouragement found in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.” Because to love God fully and to then love our families we need to never give up, never be afraid, and stay strong. Therefore, in light of such an incredible calling, it makes sense Jesus would use the incredible language of hyperbole.
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