|A Prayer of Jesus||I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.|
Listen to him!(Mark 9:7)
Call no man on earth your father, for you have one Father who is in heaven.
The Fatherhood of God is the prime focus of the words of Jesus. This chapter describes how God, through those words, views fatherhood as an exclusive relationship that properly applies to him and to no one else. His exclusive fatherhood is the foundation of our eternal salvation. Therefore the following commandment takes precedence over all others introduced by Jesus:"Call no man on earth your father, for you have one father, who is in heaven." (Matthew 23:9)This is the most important, because it is essentially the same as that which Jesus designated the first:You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength, and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27)If you are uncertain about the sameness of these two commandments, then consider how they are related. First, both are commandments that God relayed through Jesus, although of course he first introduced the language of the first commandment through Moses. He commands total love, and he commands exclusive fatherhood; I conclude therefore that he would have us love him as Father.
Yes, and as more than "heavenly Father" as distinguished from the earthly father. We are to love him as Father exclusively, calling no man "father." You have not loved God according to the first commandment, with "all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength, and with all your soul," until you have loved him exclusively as Father. It is simple. If you love someone else, some man on earth, as Father, then you have divided your love, and you are not loving God with all of anything. Claiming both God and man as father is precisely the same, from the Father's viewpoint, as claiming two wives or husbands, from the viewpoint of the first wife or husband. Don't forget that Almighty God is eternally jealous! We are called upon to be monogamous in sexual relationships. We are similarly called upon to be monopatriarchal in personal relationships.
Consider Jesus' example. Joseph and Mary took him up to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast when he was about twelve. They were returning home when they missed him after the first day of the journey. Then they returned to the city seeking him. The story continues:
"After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, `Son, why have you treated us so: Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.'
And he said to them:`How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?' (Luke 2:49)Since they understood the temple to be God's house, we learn the following from this illuminating transaction:
(1) Mary considered Joseph to be the father of Jesus, and called him such. She seems to have expected him to consider the home in Nazareth to be "my father's house."
(2) Jesus hastened to deny this relationship by calling God "my Father." His words constituted a rebuke to Mary for not knowing exactly where to find him – In his Father's house – and for calling Joseph his father.
(3) After twelve years with him, Joseph and Mary did not consider Jesus to be of extraordinary parentage. If they had they would not have been astonished to find him sitting with the rabbis in the temple – and they would have known exactly where to find him – In his Father's house.
(4) Jesus' self knowledge arose from within himself at an early age, but this was the first time he had declared it to Mary. Otherwise, she would have learned from earlier experience not to call Joseph his father. Afterwards, Jesus returned to Nazareth with them and we read that Mary "kept all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51) In like manner, following the birth of Jesus and the visit of the shepherds, we read that "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) These comments are strong evidence that Mary did not tell Jesus the details of his miraculous conception. Instead, she pondered these things . . . in her heart . . . and there she kept them. Perhaps she almost forgot them as the years passed, because she did call Joseph his father. But Jesus knew. From an early age he knew, and he never attributed to Joseph the relationship of father. God, and God only, was his Father.
How did he know God as his only Father? Was it through a knowledge of his conception by the Spirit in a virgin that he knew? Not necessarily, and there are good reasons for saying this:
- (1) His utterances contain no mention of a virgin birth, therefore I conclude that this was not a factor in his self knowledge. It was not important to his message to the world.
So, I am not writing of a relationship with God that is unique to Jesus due to the immaculate conception, but of a relationship that can become valid for anyone on earth who seeks it, following Jesus' precept and example. It is, however, an exclusive relationship that does not exist while we persist in attributing it also to some man. Fatherhood, if it is to involve God, must exclude man – otherwise why would Jesus have commanded us to call no man Father? We have either an earthly or a heavenly Father, but we cannot have both.
- (2) He makes no distinction between himself and his followers regarding the attribution of fatherhood, although they were not virgin born. He calls no man Father, and he commands us to do the same. (Matthew 23:9) There is therefore no good reason to suppose that the virgin birth played any part in Jesus' understanding of the exclusive fatherhood of God.
The purely human idea of fatherhood is necessary for reasons other than genetic. I am tempted to say that it is a "necessary evil," since that is the practical effect of the way things are. If things were different, such that the idea of fatherhood were unknown, we could not possibly choose God for our Father. Therefore the earthly father-child relationship is evil in that it is outside and contrary to God's will for us, yet it serves God's purpose by introducing us to an idea that makes our alternatives intelligible.
Why We Have a Human Father
The father idea is exceedingly strong among the Jews, and has always been so in this patriarchal clan. This helps to explain why the truth arose from within the Jewish nation. Where the father-child bond is strongest, our turning to God as Father is of the most profound significance. There is a paradoxical element in this, because the stronger our bond with the earthly parent, the less likely we are to break it to realize the bond to the Heavenly Father. The best candidate for divine childhood is therefore the most improbable one, and the New Testament Jews were the most improbable people on earth. The father bond was so strong among them that it became, in their view, the one thing that qualified them to inherit the promises of God. (Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8) By holding the earthly fatherhood in the highest regard, and by carefully preserving genealogies, they could trace their descent from "Father Abraham," to whose offspring God had directed his promises. (Genesis 17:7-9) They believed that, as inheritors of the promises of God, they were uniquely blessed among all peoples.
The Jews and Fatherhood
The relationship to the immediate father was supremely precious to each because it was the tie that linked each to "Father Abraham," and ultimately, to God and his favor – or so they supposed. They were therefore exceedingly well prepared for the choice of the heavenly alternative that Jesus set before them. Yet, precisely because the bond to the earthly parent was so very strong, not many would break it to realize the heavenly bond. It is ironic that the very bond in which they trusted to secure the favor of God was the barrier standing between them and God. They were therefore not well disposed toward this man in their midst commanding them not to call Abraham, or any other man, "Father." Here was treason most heinous – the betrayal of the ethnic heritage by which they supposed God's favor and the national welfare were secured.
They did think of God as Father, but in a relationship resulting from intermediate linkages and not directly. Luke listed this genealogical chain, tracing the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, and thence to God. (Luke 3:23-38) It was the intermediate linkages that distinguished men from the deity. Therefore, when Jesus expressed a direct bond to God as Father, they perceived him as a blasphemer by making himself thus equal with God. (John 5:18) They applied the death sentence to such transgressors, fully persuaded that they were serving God in the process.
John the Baptist understood their folly in this regard, because he attacked their reliance on the bond with "Father Abraham" in the most direct and powerful manner, as follows: "He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as out Father, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8)
Jesus' acceptability to the Jews was further hindered by their reading of the prophets, who identified the messiah as a son of David and of Abraham. As "Son of David," the messiah was uniquely qualified to inherit the kingship that God promised to David's offspring. (I Kings 2:4) Therefore the Jews, in their passion for the restoration of the Kingship of David (which they took also to be the Kingdom of God), determined to accept as messiah only a Son of David. It does appear from the genealogical record that Jesus was of the royal line of descent. (Luke 3:23-31) He could have legitimately based his claim to messiahship on this fact. Had he done so, his position before the people would have been much stronger, and his messiahship much more acceptable to them. Some did honor him as messiah, and when doing so were prone to address him as "Son of David" because of the promise of the kingship to David and his line.
The Example of Jesus
Yet Jesus steadfastly refused to acknowledge sonship to David. Instead, at an appropriate time, he himself made a public issue of the matter. Here is Matthew's rendition of this event:Now when the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying: `What think you of the Christ? Whose son is he? They said to him, `The Son of David.'He said to them, `How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him `Lord', saying: `The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet?' If David thus calls him `Lord', how is he his son?' (Psalm 110:1)Jesus dealt similarly with the idea of being a Son of Abraham. The context is the eighth chapter of John's Gospel, where, at the conclusion of a long and very enlightening dissertation devoted to the father-son relationship in Judaism, he said:Your Father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day. He saw it and was glad. (John 8:56)The Jews then said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"
Jesus said to them,Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. (John 8:58)So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple. They felt fully justified in stoning him. In their estimate, he had blasphemed by making himself precedent to Abraham and equal with God by claiming a direct relationship apart from the linkage with Abraham.
As a fellow Jew he might have said, with the rest of them, "Our father, Abraham." This he did not do, but in a manner consistent with the Truth, he made it clear to all that he did not even call the man Abraham "father." Those who ended by stoning him were the same ones who, a few minutes earlier and at the beginning of this incident, had believed in him.
The controversy started when Jesus stated:
Significance of this Controversy with the JewsIf you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31,32)These words greatly offended them. Jesus knew that they would be offended by the implication that they were bond slaves. He also knew that the root of the offense was the pride they took in being sons of Abraham. More specifically, they were the offspring of both Abraham and Sarah, the "free woman," in contrast to Hagar, the "slave woman," who bore Ishmael to Abraham. (Genesis 16:15) So they said to Jesus, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, `You will be made free.?' (John 8:33) Jesus then led them into an interchange that issued in his identifying them as sons of the devil, and in their attempt to stone him to death. Why did he do this? He took a group of fellow Jews who were benevolently disposed and who "believed in him" (John 8:32) and with a few words turned them into mortal enemies. Why challenge them because of their dependency upon lineage? Why not accept them as they were? What could possibly be wrong with their claiming to be sons of Abraham? They were, weren't they? So was Jesus! What was to be gained by deliberately offending them over a seemingly innocuous tradition? What could justify inciting so violent a response?
Such action can only be justified if their reliance on Abrahamic sonship was a radical contradiction to the Truth the Father sent him to announce. Then, he could do nothing other than to confront them with the Truth, inflammatory though it be. If the very basis of their culture opposed the Truth, how could he have done otherwise? He did it because he knew that they founded their faith in him on a total misconception of whom he was, where he came from, and what he came to do. He knew they could never endure his words – that in their hearts they were disposed to kill the man he was, and would attempt to do so when they came to know him correctly.
He knew that they must break the link with Abraham, in their hearts, if they were ever to forge a link with the Father in heaven. It is understandable that they were not receptive, since it was the link with Abraham that they trusted to join them to God. It condenses to this: they were trusting in their condemnation for their salvation! Jesus did not avoid the issue, for their sakes. It was for our sakes, as well, that this event has been preserved in the Word for two millennia. He could do nothing else, for only by pushing his blade to the hilt could he bear an enduring testimony to the Truth of the Father. We see on close analysis that he proceeded in the following stepwise fashion:(1) Knowing that they would not endure his words, he made this a condition of discipleship in the words already quoted. They would have shouted "Amen," had he only omitted the phrase, "shall make you free." He said this knowing what would be their response, and it was for that reason that he had to say it. They responded exactly as expected, saying, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, `You will be made free?'" (John 8:32)(2) Now to redefine freedom and slavery, and thus to clarify their true parentage. Jesus had set a trap for them in the first step, and they tripped it by asking their question, as he knew they would. So he answered:Now recall that the linkage to Abraham, through Isaac, is the root of the controversy. Abraham cast Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, out of his house, but Isaac, the son of the free woman, remained. (Genesis 21:10) This is the pattern upon which Jesus is building his case; the pattern only, not the reality, as is clear from his statement, "The son continues forever." (John 8:35) He founded his position upon the realities of eternity, not those of human, temporal genealogy.
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house forever; the son continues forever, so if the son makes you free, you will be free indeed! (John 8:34-46)
Then he opened the trap yet wider as he continued:
- (3) Next he drew them further into his trap by leading them on to make a direct assertion of their relationship to Abraham. They had used the term "descendants" (seed), and Jesus agreed with them as he continued:
"I know that you are seed of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you." (John 8:37)"I speak of what I have seen with my father, and you do what you have heard from your father." (John 8:38)They took the bait and said, "Abraham is our father!"
- (4) Having gained this assertion, Jesus denied it and then explained the reason, accusing them again of seeking to kill him. Yet again they grasped the bait and said, "We were not born of fornication. We have one father, even God!" (John 8:41) Ahah! They are beginning to get the idea! By this assertion they have accepted the challenge of projecting the question of their parentage into the eternal realm. Jesus proceeded to the next and final step, which was to define their true parentage from the perspective of eternity.
So, they are the children of the devil, the murderer, because they want to kill Jesus. They are also the children of the devil, the liar, because the words of Jesus, the words of truth, offend them and in their rage they cannot deny it. Now comes the final blow:
- (5) So he said to them:"If God were your father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him." (John 8:42- 44)"He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." (John 8:47)The reality is that only the son, Jesus, continues in God's house forever, and only he and his brethren (those who hear his words) are free. The Jews, even "those who had believed in him," are the children of the slave, Satan, who was cast out of the Father's house and who, with all his children, is in bondage to sin.
It was at this point that the Jews yielded themselves to violent rage, and took up stones to put him to death. Jesus, who had not yet finished his work, chose to hide himself from them. He had revealed the true colors of those Jews who thought that they believed in him. He also redefined the father/child relationship as a divine, eternal bond having no validity on the human, temporal level, except as the relation of man to God, or to Satan, (John 8:44) as the individual case might be. The fatherhood of Abraham is nothing. In the words of John the Baptist, "God is able of these stones raise up children unto Abraham!" (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8) And if that is void, so is the fatherhood of every other man. Only the fatherhood of God has validity, or is genuine, and the only alternative is to be fathered by . . . Satan!
Jesus had also put forth a two-fold test that establishes the parentage of everyone, as it did for "those Jews who had believed in him. " First, the child hears the words of the father. (John 8:47) The child of God hears the words of God, as uttered by Jesus. Whoever cannot bear the word of God is the child of father Satan, and hears, believes, and repeats the words of his father, which are lies. (John 8:44)
As Jesus said, the child does the works of the Father:"I speak of what I have seen with my father, and you do what you have heard from your father." (John 8:38)And also:"If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did." (John 8:39)Satan was a murderer from the beginning, therefore those who seek to kill Jesus are the children of Satan. This second "test" grows out of the like characters of father and child. The child does the deeds of the father because the child is like the father, which reminds us of the common saying, "Like father, like son." It follows that to become a child of the Father in heaven, one must become like him in essential ways. Jesus observed that the life giving warmth of the sun, and the refreshing rain, come both to the righteous and the wicked, without discrimination. Since the Father is thus merciful to all, both the wicked and the righteous, we can become his children by acting similarly. By praying for those who persecute us, (Matthew 5:44) by loving our enemies, (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27) by doing good to those who do us evil, (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27) and by lending to those who will not repay, (Luke 6:34-35) we become the children of God. (Luke 6:35)"Love your enemies", he said, "and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the most high; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:35-36)Those who act otherwise in that they love only those who love them, lend only to receive as much again, and do good only to those who do good to them, Jesus calls "sinners."
Jesus told two parables to illustrate this divine quality of mercy and to describe the consequences of either having or not having it. One, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), describes the penalty for failing to be merciful after having received the Father's mercy. The other focuses our attention upon the positive example of The Good Samaritan, (Luke 10:29-37) who showed mercy to the man fallen among thieves whereas the religious personages passed him by. It is extremely important to recognize that Jesus commands us to do these things for one reason: "So that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:45) This is the sole motive. He makes no comment on any other anticipated result. We are prone to think of other reasons for responding to Jesus' ethical imperatives: to turn an enemy into a friend, to make a better world, even to "witness" for Jesus. Such thinking is far from the word of Jesus and, for that matter, also far from the final consequence of his acts of mercy, which was his crucifixion before a mob of people for whom he had done nothing but good. The children of God cannot realistically expect that their acts of mercy will have a different result from those of their Lord, who put the matter concisely when he said:"If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household?" (Matthew 10:25)and,"If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you . . ." (John 15:20)There is then only one acceptable motive for obeying Jesus – to become a child of God. This is the good will of God, and it leads us back to the first test of the father/child relationship: The child hears the words of the father.
I do not mean to imply that there are no good consequences to follow the merciful act. On the contrary, Jesus said, "Your reward shall be great." (Luke 6:35) By this he spoke of a reward in heaven, not on earth.
He said elsewhere:"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13)
I have already stated that the Jews misunderstood who Jesus was, where he came from, and what he came to do. A careful reading of John's Gospel reveals that this misunderstanding is prominent there. Those who knew him as a young man in Nazareth knew him to be the son of Mary, of the city of Nazareth, a carpenter. (Mark 6:3) Others, in particular those who held only ill will for him from the beginning, knew him to be a Galilean from Nazareth from which no good comes. (John 1:46) Or they knew him to be a Samaritan, demon possessed, who comes for no good. (John 8:48) All the Jews understood that the messiah was the Son of David and of Abraham who would come from Bethlehem to restore the rule of David in Jerusalem. Those who understood that Jesus was messiah continued to believe these things, in some confusion, but still mounted a movement to take him to Jerusalem and force the scepter upon him. Jesus would have none of this. When the Jews sought to make him king, he hid himself from them, for neither Nazareth nor Bethlehem played any part in his self identification or self knowledge. (John 6:15) He knew himself to be the messiah who has only God for his father and who came neither from Nazareth nor Bethlehem, but down from heaven to do the will of God, not the will of the Jews.
God as the Father of Jesus
Jesus was and is the son of God . . . directly. His sonship thus by-passes all the genealogical intermediaries. It was an idea heinous to the Jews, who thought it blasphemy. Jesus persistently forced the idea upon them and they responded by attempting to stone him to death according to the dictates of their law. (John 8:59) His Jewish disciples were from the same tradition and they also found it difficult to accept the idea of direct sonship. It was the barrier that, having finally been breached, became for the early disciples the key to salvation. For example, John testified: "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the son of God – God abides in him and he in God." (I John 4:15) This was the "good confession" first made by Peter at Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked the gathered disciples:"Whom do men say that the son of man is?"They responded, "Some say John the Baptist, and others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them:"But who do you say that I am?"Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Then Jesus responded:"Blessed are you, Simon bar (son of) Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my father who is in heaven." (Matthew 16:17)
Of course it was not flesh and blood that had revealed it – for all the flesh and blood in Peter's experience called it blasphemy. Yet here he was, courageously confessing the truth that lies at the core of the Gospel! This was surely a major insight toward the development of Peter's comprehension of the truth, yet he was still far from a full realization of it, as Jesus knew. Jesus acknowledged this when he addressed the disciple as "son of Jonah," (Matthew 16:17) the earthly parent, implying that he was not yet a son of God. Jesus continued to identify him with Satan, as we learn by reading a little further. Yes, Jesus called him "blessed," and promised him the keys of the kingdom – but then immediately confronted him with a test that he failed miserably. (Matthew 16:21-22)
He began by showing Peter and all the disciples how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed and raised on the third day. In Jesus' mind this announcement would have come as wonderful news to any true friend who fully perceived the significance of his being the son of God. He was, through death, to go to his Father in heaven – to share with him the glories of eternity. But Peter still loved his life on earth and wanted Jesus to remain in the earthly life, that is, in the flesh. This talk of suffering and being killed offended him so that he took hold of Jesus and cried out, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" Then Jesus turned and spoke these terrible words:"Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men." (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33)Then followed one of the hard sayings:"Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25)Peter was far from realizing that to love heaven is to hate earth; that to identify with God in heaven is to cut the bond with earth; that to make God his father is to set himself apart from the earthly parent – yes, to hate the earthly, to use a word selected by Jesus. (Luke 14:26)
On the day of the crucifixion Peter still did not understand. He revealed his love of temporal life when, in fear for it, he even denied that he knew Jesus. (Matthew 26:69-75) But after the resurrection – surely he understood then? No, not even then. John's Gospel relates the account of an appearance of the resurrected Lord to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Some disciples had been together the day before the appearance and Peter said, "I am going fishing." (John 21:3) Now it is important to recall at this point that Peter was beforehand a fisherman, and he was plying this trade when Jesus called him to leave it and follow him. Jesus is now dead, and Peter wants to return to fishing. Well, the others followed Peter's lead and went with him.
They fished all night and caught nothing. Then at daybreak they saw (but did not recognize) Jesus standing on the beach. He called to them to cast the net on the other side. They did this and caught so many fish they could not haul them into the boat. One of the disciples said to Peter, "It is the Lord." Then we read how Peter, always the impetuous one, put on his clothes and swam ashore while the others rowed, dragging the net full of fish. They found that the Lord already had a fire with a breakfast of fish and bread laid out for them. He commanded them also to bring some of the fish they had just caught. Then he invited them to breakfast, giving them to eat of the bread and fish he had already prepared. After eating he turned his attention to Peter and said:"Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?"What did he mean by "these?" The fish, of course.
And why did he say, "son of Jonah?" Because, in the mind of the Lord that is exactly what Peter yet remained. He had not yet become a son of God because he continued to love this life and its fish!
Finally, why did he say "more than these?" Because Peter had gone back to the fish although his Lord had long before called him away from them to become a fisher of men. Twice more he asked him, "Do you love me?" as though to counter, one by one, Peter's three denials at the foot of the cross. Each time he commanded Peter saying, "Feed my sheep!" and then told him what manner of death he would die as an old man – a death by which he would glorify God. Finally, he commanded, "Follow me." (John 21:19-22)
Perhaps Peter recalled that day when Jesus first called him and commanded, "Follow me." It was a day much like this one, in which Jesus passed along the seashore and saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their net into the sea. On that day Jesus said to them:"Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." (Matthew 4:18-20)They had followed immediately.
Another disciple, on being commanded by Jesus to follow him, sought first to bargain and responded, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." To this Jesus replied:"Follow me and leave the dead to bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:22)Surely Peter needed this message also!
This utterance has often been erroneously interpreted to focus on the man's mistaken priorities, in which case the word "first" becomes the key to his meaning. But now, considering Jesus' utterances on the subject of fatherhood, we see clearly that what was unacceptable to Jesus was his referring to his male progenitor as "father." Jesus did not mention priorities, but instead implied that his identification with the dead was to cease."Leave the dead to bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:22)While this disciple wanted to postpone following Jesus until his "father" was dead, Jesus considered him to be dead already, together with all those who had the task of burying him. It follows that anyone who establishes his or her identity through a man whom one calls "father" is in God's sight dead already, and only those who call only God "father" are alive to God. To establish one's identity by recourse to human forebears is to identify with the dead, and that is death indeed.
This incident also provides a basis for an evaluation of Jesus' attitude toward the law of Moses. The commandment, "Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long on the earth, which the lord your God gives you." (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16) means that one should care for his parents in their old age, and then bury them at their deaths. The children would then do the same so that one's life would be prolonged, and thus one's "days would be long on the earth."
The Fifth Commandment
Jesus considered this to be a commandment to the "dead," since the dead are the ones who wish to extend their lives on the earth, and this disciple was only asking to be permitted to obey this commandment. But when God, and only God, is father, we fulfill this commandment by honoring God and the result is eternal life, not length of days on the earth. Therefore, Jesus would not permit this disciple to obey the commandment, because it would identify him with the dead. It was not because of priorities, for if it was to be done at all it must be done first.
Jesus elsewhere stressed the breaking of this earthly father-son bond in the most unmistakable language, when he said:"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father . . . and a man's foes will be those of his own household." (Matthew 10:34-36)Yet again he said:"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father...he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)
So with Jesus it is always either/or and never both/and as the religionists of this age would have us believe. Either God is your only Father, and you acknowledge him as such, or else Satan is your father. (John 8:41-44) The exclusivity of divine Fatherhood is the key to this principle, and that is why Jesus commands us to call no man on earth "Father." (Matthew 23:9) If in truth we are disciples of his son, Jesus, and if we can receive his words, then we have only one Father, even God.
Why must the relationship as children of God be exclusive? Does God have to explain his reasons to us? Of course not! Yet it is not difficult to conceive of good reasons for this principle. What if God's sole motive for creation is to produce sons and daughters for himself alone? And what if this requires that those who exist within the creation first desire from the heart to become his daughters and sons and to call only God "Father?" And what if we fail to respond? Do we not therefore abort the cardinal purpose of the creation, and render all the Father's efforts vain endeavors, including not only the creation itself, but also the sufferings of the Christ? Could any sin be greater than this?
Yes, the Father's sole motive for the creation of the heavens and the earth and all things therein is that we might become his sons and daughters in Glory. (Isaiah 43:6) He therefore is an eternally jealous God who wills to be our only Father.
Jesus exemplified the ultimate expression of the Father's will by refusing to call any man "Father," by motivating all his disciples to do all things "so that we might be the children of our Father in heaven," (Matthew 5:44-45) and by attacking and condemning the propensity of the Jews to identify with the dead through their devotion to the patriarchs. (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8) Then he commanded all who follow him to "call no man on earth `Father.'" (Matthew 23:9) Therefore, our propensity to identify with human parentage and to call our male progenitors "father," with all the trappings of patriarchal devotion, constitutes the ultimate violation of the will of God. As disobedience to the first commandment, this must be the cardinal sin! He made our positive response to this teaching a prime qualification for discipleship when he said:
The Cardinal SinIf any (man) come to me and hate not his father . . . he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14-26)
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