I heard a young woman I know well say words similar to these recently. With knee-jerk speed, I shot back, "your mom does NOT hate you."
The thing is, I know why this young woman might say these words. Her mother recently had to say some difficult words to her, and do something difficult for a parent to do. And yet, I know that her mother doesn't hate her. In fact, her mother loves her very much. Her mother, and in fact, many of us, are worried about her.
She's been making some bad choices for a long time: lying about where she's been, partying with her friends when she says she's studying, not doing the work she needs to do in order to graduate from high school. She's on a road leading nowhere, and doesn't seem to know it. She seems to think she's living the high life with "friends", but the people who really love her know it isn't true.
When I think about this young woman I know and worry about, I can't help thinking about the prophets. Especially Jeremiah. Jeremiah spoke almost unremitting words of judgment to the people of Israel. He kept telling them they were heading toward a fall. He was suspected of being a traitor. He didn't promise prosperity, rainbows or cheap grace.
It makes me wonder, did the people say, "The Lord hates us"?
I'm told that popular preacher Joel Osteen is fond of saying, "God is not mad at you." Now I know why he might be saying this; there are a lot of people out there who experience only God's judgment in their lives. They are sure that God is unhappy with every move they make. But it's not exactly true that, "God is not mad at you."
Sometimes God is angry with us because God loves us, because God sees us heading down a path to nowhere. Sometimes God has to speak hard words, give ultimatums, because we don't love our neighbor as ourselves, especially if they're poor, or don't look like us, or are weak and easy to take advantage of. Sometimes God is angry with us because we think we're living the high life, building bigger barns, but we're really on a collective road to destruction.
I remember talking to a confirmation group a few years ago about the 7th commandment, "You shall not steal." I had been really moved and angered when I was in high school when I heard that grocery stores in poor neighborhoods charged the people more for groceries, simply because didn't have the mobility to go shop at another store if they didn't like the prices. (This was the explanation of my high school teacher in the 1970s.) I shared this with my class, and asked, "is this stealing from the poor? Is this breaking the 7th commandment?" And one of the students said, "It's not stealing. It's GOOD BUSINESS." (Sadly, he also opined that it is their own fault that people are poor.)
Right now, I'm thinking about our inability to create racial equity, our unwillingness to work toward opportunities for all of us. If we don't work toward a world where everyone has a future, we're on a collective road to destruction, and we don't see it. We don't see that our futures are connected. We don't see that the choices we make in our personal lives, and in our collective lives, are leading to death, not life.
And yet, God loves us. God loves us like I love this young woman, and want her to walk down a different road, a road that leads to life, making choices not just based on what feels good right now, but what will lead to a bright future.
It's always hard to hear words like our gospel for Sunday: "I come not to bring peace but a sword." "I come to bring fire." This is not the same Jesus who has held children on his knee, and cleansed lepers, and fed thousands. Who is this Jesus?
But it is the same Jesus. And it's because he has held children, and cleansed lepers, and fed thousands that he also says these words. it's because he loves the poor who pay too much and the grocer who charges this much, because he loves the boy who is tempted to join a gang, the girl who is trying hard to learn English, and the congregation who closes their eyes and doesn't see them -- it's because Jesus loves them all that he speaks words like these. "Can't you see the signs?" He asks us. "Can't you see the signs?"