Who are we, really, without all our stuff, our possessions?
In our consumer society, we’re constantly surrounded by so much stuff we can buy and have.
We’re tempted always to want more.
We become what we buy.
We so closely identify with all our possessions, which then become to “possess” us, enthrall us, overwhelm us.
The brand becomes ever so important – the brand of cars, technology, clothes — they overtake us, define us, and project who we are.
We’re proud PC or Mac users.
We’re a diehard Blackberry user. Or a loyal iPhone person. Or we swear by Samsung, or Windows phones.
We’re loyal Toyota, Volkswagen, or Ford car owners.
We attach our identities to the Prada, Gucci, or Armani clothes lines.
We so attach ourselves to the stuff we buy, and let it define who we are.
But do we have any inkling of who we are without all that stuff?
It’s an important question we all face and struggle with, sooner or later.
We got a glimpse of that struggle in the eyes of those interviewed in the aftermath of the fire that burned down the St. Jacob’s market last Monday. The vendors, understandably, were shocked, viewing the ash and rubble, and realizing that all their merchandise, everything, was gone. “But”, as one said, “it’s only stuff we can buy again. Good that no one was hurt.”
We saw the residents of southern Alberta struggle with that question earlier this summer when the flood waters suddenly, within the course of minutes, washed away or severely damaged their homes and property – everything they had… gone.
Who are we really, without all our stuff? After fires, explosions, floods, tornadoes destroy homes and possessions, stuff that we cling to, that question comes racing to the fore.
I think that’s essentially the question that Jesus is getting at in the Gospel passage this morning. (Luke 14:25-33)
To his listeners he’s asking:
Are you able to distance yourself, disconnect yourself enough from your things and possessions, even your family, to realize the wonderful, good person you are, with all the unique gifts, talents, yearnings you have?
Are you able to disconnect yourself enough from your possessions and family to realize what is most important in life, and what God is calling you to be and to do?
Not to disown or reject your things, and family, but to have that healthy distance?
In Jesus’ day, family, and family affiliation was everything. Everyone was either a “son of” or “daughter of” some patriarch. It was through your family that you’d receive your primary identity. Families provided access to connections in society, security, inheritance rights, a way to make a living. When it came to religion, either entire families converted, or didn’t.
So what does Jesus mean when he says – and he uses these words – that you can’t become his disciple if you didn’t “hate” your family? Wow. Strong words.
From a young age, my parents told me, and I hear myself today say this to my own children, that “hate” is a very strong word. And we shouldn’t use that word.
But here, Jesus is asking us to “hate” our parents and children and other family members in order to be his disciple. Bizarre.
It’s important to realize here – and that’s why Bible studies are so important — that the Aramaic word miseo translated to “hate” does not always or necessarily mean an active rejection, detesting, abhorring, loathing.
Instead, it can mean “to love less.” It refers to a different understanding of priorities. To “hate” one’s family was a way of saying that family would no longer be the primary affiliation, the first and foremost place of love and loyalty. You can still be part of a family, and love dearly your family members, but, they would no longer take first place, if you wanted to be a committed disciple of Jesus.
Using strong and bold language, Jesus was inviting his listeners to a deeper and more committed discipleship, especially those “interested inquirers and admirers,” those on the edge of the crowd, on the sidelines, checking Jesus out from a distance, half-heartedly considering his words.
Jesus is pushing these “seekers,” these “inquirers and admirers” to take the plunge, to go deeper, to embrace the reality of who they are before a loving and compassionate God who shines on them with abundant grace and mercy, and who calls them to a life of self-giving love.
Who are we, without all our stuff and our family? Alone, before God?
I love the true story of James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author. He’s written several books: “My Life with the Saints” and “Between Heaven and Mirth.”
As a young student, he first went to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business to study accounting and business, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance.
But while working six years in corporate finance for General Electric in New York, he realized how miserable he was feeling.
He admitted that, while business may be a fantastic vocation for some people, it wasn’t for him.
So he quit, and entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and became a priest.
And he says how truly happy and fulfilled he’s been since he made that decision.
For a time, as a Jesuit priest, he was part of an effort to help refugees from all over East Africa to start small business to help support themselves. And he writes how that was the best thing ever, and how amusing it felt because he was now using his marketing and accounting training from business school to serve African refugees rather than corporate America.
Following his vocation, his call, to be a priest made him feel alive and happy in a way he never felt before.
Each of us has a unique vocation, to become the person we are meant to be.
God wants for us to be the freest, most mature, most loving, most alive person we can be.
As the second century theologian St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive!”
God wants us to be our best selves.
And so we really do need to begin asking that question: Who are we, really? Alone. Before God. Our unique talents, gifts, our deepest desires and yearnings – what are they?
Remembering, and recommitting to our first love, our love of God who loves us beyond measure, we can then try to be our best selves, following Jesus into a life defined by service and joy.