A paradigm is a world view, a way of thinking. It is how we view ourselves, others and reality. Paradigms often work on subconscious levels, in ways that we are not immediately aware of, but nonetheless exert vast influence and control over our lives and our actions. In many ways, paradigms are those “things” that we have learned to assume as being “just the way things are and have always been.”
Jesus, in his apparently harsh teaching, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26) is instructing us that in the life of the disciple there always is the possibility of the renewal of our minds (the paradigms we live by). We are not meant to be enslaved. By Christ we have been ransomed, set free for the truth of who we are meant to be.
The family and ties to the family, in Jesus’ day, exerted an enormous control over people’s lives even to the point of hindering ones openness to God’s call and to the call of discipleship. In this teaching Jesus is not disparaging the role of family and its honest commitments (a reality which he honors in other parts of Scripture), rather he is putting the ties to family, kin, clan and nation in proper order vis-a-vis relation to God and the Kingdom of God – what is ultimately best (by God’s design) for the person involved.
Paradigms that stay in proper order and relationship to God (the source of all truth) give life. Paradigms that get out of proper order and even seek to supplant God’s role, quickly become demonic and life-stealing.
Jesus is laying down the condition that to be a disciple means to be willing to let the light of God’s grace search and cleanse the paradigms we live by – even if it means pain and discomfort. To be a disciple means to maintain, on our part, the willingness to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is one of my favorite epistles in the New Testament exactly for this reason. This short letter is abundant in the action of grace in the renewal of minds. Paul’s mind is being renewed in his growing appreciation for the newly baptized Onesimus. Onesimus’ understanding is being transformed by his inherent dignity of being a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ. Philemon is being asked to let his perspective on his runaway slave Onesimus shift from one of viewing the imprisoned slave as just disobedient property to the recognition of a fellow human being – a brother in Christ. Paul’s short epistle witnesses to the abundant work of grace in Christ transforming all the paradigms of the day, all the things taken for granted as just being the way things are supposed to be.
What about us? What are the paradigms that we live by? What are the paradigms in our individual lives and in our times that may have gotten out of proper order, the paradigms that need a word of truth spoken to them? I can think of a few: a societal view that equates worth solely with achievement and productivity, an insulationist tendency rooted in fear and mistrust, a consumer only approach to life and relationships. Just to name a few.
To be a disciple means to name these paradigms for what they are and, if need be, to call them back to proper order. On our own we cannot do this, the depth of the movement is beyond our grasp. But not God’s. This is why in the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18) we hear the author lamenting, “The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans … scarce do we guess the things on earth … when things are in heaven, who can search them out?” But the lament quickly turns to confident assurance in the presence of God when the author acknowledges, “Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.”
As disciples, we do not look to our own wisdom but to God’s and we have the confident assurance that God does reveal his wisdom to us if we but learn to listen. God will speak to us and reveal truths that we cannot arrive at by our own effort. The fact is God does this all the time.
Paradigms can shift, God’s grace is present. We can be transformed by the renewal of our minds.