“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–26 NIV11)
There might not be a more controversial, hard-to-accept verse in the entire Bible. What does it mean to ‘hate’ in the way Jesus intends? How can Jesus talk about hate in any positive sense? Didn’t he tell us to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27 NIV11) It’s in the same gospel. Is he contradicting himself? Well, we’ll look at this in more depth on Sunday, but for now let’s consider the following issues.
First, the word, “hate”. We need its cultural context. According to Kealy, Hebrew, “had no suitable words to express different shades of meaning. Thus words such as “love” and its opposite “hate”…were used to express the idea of preference.”¹ Hence we should not see this as a a call to literal hate, but more one where a preference of one over the other is involved.
But does God never hate? Yes, He does. He hates insincere worship:
“Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:14 NIV11)
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” (Amos 5:21 NIV11)
With this understanding we can surmise that Jesus is saying, “Are you ‘all-in’? Are you ready to be fully committed, truly sincere?” This fits the following two parables (we’ll look at these in more detail another time). We cannot be divided in terms of who is first in our affections: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NIV11)
If we are to love all people (and loving our enemies must include our families even if they are also our enemies!), Jesus cannot be asking us to literally hate our families. So, what does he mean? Perhaps it is that the love one of his disciples has for him must be so strong that the highest other human love is hatred by comparison (see also Matthew 10:37). In other words, Jesus comes first. Always. In everything.
Such an interpretation does not weaken the command. On the contrary, it strengthens it. We are called to a radical reordering of priorities. Our devotion to Jesus is so total and complete, so wholehearted and genuine that observers will see love for friends, family and things as hatred in comparison. This is not so much a call to remove love for family as a call to ensure love for Jesus is so hot that all other loves we have are cold by comparison.
How do we sustain this love? Recall that eternal life is on offer: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25 NIV11) As well as many other great and special promises: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29–30 NIV11)
More reflections on this passage will be coming later in the week. But, for now, what are your thoughts on this passage? How do interpret the “hate” Jesus is talking about? How do explain it when talking to other people? I’d like to hear your ideas. Please drop me a line via email, or leave a comment on this blog
¹Kealy, C.S.Sp, Seán. Freedman, David Noel, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, eds. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.