|From the Spring 2011 issue of Knowing & Doing|
by William “Bill” Kynes, Ph.D.
Since the U.S. government moved to an all-volunteer military in the 1970s the Army has advertized itself to potential recruits in various ways. In the 1980s the slogan was “Be all that you can be. Join the U.S. Army” or “It’s a great place to start.” The Army provided training that would prepare you for the job market, and through the G.I. Bill you could earn money for college. It was a great deal: Do yourself a favor. Fulfill your potential. Be all that you can be. Things were relatively peaceful in those days, and being in the Army was almost like enrolling in a technical college for four years, with some physical training and discipline thrown in.
But in 1991, when the First Gulf War began, all these new Army recruits were suddenly saying, “You mean I have to leave my family and fight a war? You want me to go to Saudi Arabia? Where in the world is Qatar? Excuse me, but that’s not in my contract.” But, of course, it was—”Sorry, soldier; you didn’t read the small print. You go where we want you to go.”
Now the Army ads are much different. In fact, they are often addressed more to the parents than to their sons and daughters. In a time of prolonged war, with a deadly combat zone, it is the parents who are the most hesitant about Army service. One ad basically says, when your child talks about enlisting, listen before you just say No. Another tries a form of flattery—”You made them strong; We’ll make them Army strong.” Things have changed.
As you look at the ministry of Jesus in the gospels you see that he was attracting a large army of people who surrounded him wherever he went. They thought that his journey to Jerusalem was a victory march for the crowning of the Messiah. They wanted to be there when he claimed his throne—to bask in his reflected glory and to grab a share of the prize for themselves.
But Jesus didn’t want any misunderstanding. There was to be no neglected small print. He wanted to make it quite clear what was required of anyone who would be his disciple and enter the kingdom of God. Consider these words: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Or these: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
Jesus is declaring what it means to become his follower, a member of his army. And no one should enlist without fully understanding what it demands and without first counting the cost (cf. Luke 14:28-32). From the beginning Jesus is entirely upfront and honest. This is an all-or-nothing proposition. You must follow me completely or not at all. In contrast to your commitment to me, you must hate your father and mother, your wife and children.
Undoubtedly, these are harsh words, especially when we give so much attention to the value of marriage and family relationships. We may blunt the sharpness of Jesus’ words a bit when he talks of hating one’s family members. We point out that the Semitic mind moved in contrasts and extremes—light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate—primary colors with no shades of gray. And in fact, Jesus himself loved his own mother, making sure that she would be cared for even as he was dying on the cross (John 19:25-27). Surely, we’re not to hate our parents. Jesus is just talking about loving him more, we say, and that’s true. And of course Jesus wasn’t literally saying that every one of his followers must be crucified just as he was or that every one must actually give away all his possessions.