“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26 NKJV)
The words of Jesus are not easy words to hear or apply. Why would Jesus ask us to hate? Are we not to love our parents and family? Is Jesus actually asking us to “hate” our loved ones if we choose to follow him? If you strictly read this for face value, it absolutely says that. In fact, even in context, Jesus is telling us about the cost of the being his follower. As is usual, our Savior never intends to close the loop on an idea. Our Twitter way of thinking with its bite-sized candy slogans fails us. In contrast, Jesus gives us something to chew on that might take a lifetime to digest.
What is hate? It may mean this according to a Bible Greek dictionary: “to strongly dislike or have an aversion toward someone or something that usually results in separation between the one who hates and the thing hated.”1 Or, “hate” in plain English is “intense hostility and aversion” due to some act or injury.2 It is not a word that is too hard to explain. But, the dissonance with “love you neighbor” screams in our eardrums. Is not our family included in what Jesus teaches about “neighbor”?
We can hate freeway traffic, the day a bill is due and even garlic—God forbid! This aversion to a person or a thing is something we all relate to. Is Jesus asking us to forget our family when we follow him? Or, is this simply a sarcastic or hyperbolic statement? I believe that we cannot disregard this statement as simply an attention-getter. There is a jewel to be dug out of this shocking declaration.
One of my theological heroes is F.F. Bruce, who wrote The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Bruce says that “hate can mean to love less” because of the biblical idiom of loving one wife and hating the other.3 It perhaps is a degree, then, in Bruce’s argumentation. We can simply then say Jesus is shocking our sensibilities and putting loving and following him as a higher love. What we love most in life then becomes a lesser love when we follow Jesus.
But, I am not entirely satisfied with this. I still think there is something beyond stirring our emotions. The visceral feeling of hate, something we all know, is brought into our contemplation of what it means to follow Christ. The very things that are closest to us and the basis of our identity compared to Christ are to be revolting. The idea of “loving less” is possibly dismissive if we don’t sit on this idea and emotion long enough. Jesus may be asking us this: “Do you know what it really feels like to follow me?”
Who can follow Christ, then? The counting of the cost is clearly delineated by our Savior here. Here is a thought I think often missed in our teaching about following Christ. Even our emotions have a stake in our discipleship. In the context of the whole speech by Jesus, we see the images of bearing a cross, constructing a building and being salt that has not lost its usefulness. Just like the Rich Young Ruler, we may see the cost and then realize we are not willing to fully follow Christ. But, unlike giving up money, the cost is clearly about people and our feelings about them.
Are we willing to lose relationships to follow Christ? In some cultures, to come out as a Christian might mean incarceration or even martyrdom. For these folks, it is not about loving these relationships less. It is about losing everything in a literal sense. Your family may even disown you as one of them. That strong feeling of hate is important because it may be as close to what that feeling of loss might be like as a result of your decision to follow Christ. Jesus, being a man, perhaps was reaching deep into our insecurities, so we understand what it means to choose him. There is no deception to attract us to a comfortable life. Christ reveals the cost of our choices as felt to the core of our being.
Following Jesus should change everything. For most of history, this has been the case. For most people in our world, the loss of everything is what’s put on the table. For us here in America, we have a hard time with what Jesus often says because we assume we can have it both ways—serving two masters. We believe our safety, our home, our family are all part of the package. In fact, some of us even feel so entitled that we think the American Dream is our spiritual right! But, if we listen carefully to the words of Jesus we might be more appalled than comforted. In fact, I think this is why he said some of the things he said. There is not much padding in Jesus’ words in this case.
Our culture deluges us with options from the buffet of lifestyles paraded in front of us—the place we live, shop and people we interact with. With social media, we can talk back to folks who think like us. Facebook has made their algorithmic goal to help this happen in our feeds, allowing people with our likes to be present more than those who are not like us. The isolation from dissonant real-life conversations means we only hear what we want to hear. Jesus invites us to come out of our manufactured relational bubble and count the cost. Losing means we gain him.
Hate—that ever so powerful of emotion—tells us a lot about ourselves. Our biases and our fears all come together and are exposed. Is Jesus telling us to love him more than our family—our parents, kids and spouse? Yes; and this is truly disturbing. While we can say we can love them less than Christ, the idea of actually loving Jesus more than them is what bothers us—deeply, in fact. Can he really mean that? Here is the main point I think Jesus makes when it comes to choosing him. Putting Jesus first means putting others second—even last.
This article originally appeared here.