Rural Dean's Letter - March 2017

Hate's a very strong word, isn't it? It can indeed be used in a strong context - for example: 'hate crime' - the way people are so controlled, possessed, by an emotion to the extent that they become unreasonable, anti-social or even violent and vindictive. Then there's the milder meaning, like: I hate coffee, I hate getting up in the morning. But neither of these are the way Jesus uses the word in the Gospels when, for example, he says "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14.26).

It isn't so much a milder meaning as a different meaning. We might say it is to do with passion. But, do not confuse passion with emotion. Passion means you have an abiding, deep-rooted interest in something. Like a strong undercurrent, it can be barely discernible sometimes. You are informed by it, nurtured by it, helped to grow as human being, by it.

And that's what I believe Jesus is saying. He is not saying that, in order to follow him, you must hate your family... how does that fit in, in any case, with Jesus' command to love our neighbour? We are at risk, there, of misinterpreting this scripture passage to suggest in some way that we are commanded to hate others - in order to love God.

What Jesus is saying, I believe, is this. God should be your passion. Should be your passion above family ties. Family and friendship ties are wonderful, important, powerful and should remain so, but a greater passion should be to want to be guided by, formed by, live one's life in, God and all that God wants, desires for you.

When Mary said 'yes' to God when she agreed to carry God's son, it was done willingly and with a strong undercurrent of passion to live for, and do well by, God. This was despite the problems and shame it could well bring her in terms of what her family and the village community would think of her. After all, unmarried women who fell pregnant in those days could be stoned to death. But she allowed herself to be called by God to do the service God wanted her to do. It was an act of will informed by her passion. That's the kind of passion Jesus is inviting us to think about and work out in our lives. Not to hate anyone, but to love God completely and loyally and willingly. By doing so, we learn that God loves everything God created. Moreover, by conforming our will to the will of God, we find we can love others with God’s love and set our own 'hates' and prejudices aside.

Rev'd Martin BoothRural Dean of Sevenoaks