Hate Your Family (and other requirements of Jesus Christ)

Pentecost 16C: Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, Philemon 1:1-21, Luke 14:25-33

357422110_3d553f572fLet us see what Jesus is up to in Luke. Jesus is traveling with a crowd, turns to them and says that in order to be Jesus’ disciple one must:

  • Hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself.
  • Carry the cross and follow Jesus.
  • Give up all possessions.

To illustrate this a bit further, Jesus presents two scenarios, one about a builder planning to construct a tower, the other about a king waging war against another king. If one intends to build a tower or wage war, one estimates the cost and capacity.

One glaring contradiction in this text is in Jesus’ use of the word, “hate,” when he is typically known for a policy of…you know…LOVE?!?!?!?!?!?!

How are we to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27), if we must hate our fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters in order to be Jesus’ disciples? We could achieve this by hating ourselves, thereby loving our family members exactly as much as we love ourselves: not very much at all. We could decide that the “love” command was for non-disciples, while disciples specifically are required to hate—God knows there are plenty of so-called disciples walking around hating people.

Perhaps Jesus speaks hyperbolically using the word “hate,” attempting to make a point about the counter-cultural, counter-intuitive nature of following him. “Hate,” in this case, might mean to turn away from. We often think of hate as a response to someone or something that makes us angry or sad, but here Jesus makes no mention of harboring extremely negative emotions.

Here, Jesus talks about action.

Give up possessions, send delegation to negotiate peace, consider your capacity and the cost, carry the cross, and then hate your…etc.

Where is your ultimate allegiance? What is your most integral guiding principle in living your life?

Consider the cost of placing your loyalty in your country, political party, or religious/denominational preference. What would you do when pushed to the limits?

Imagine a family in Nazi Germany, harboring neighbors in their basement and having to decide at gunpoint whether or not to offer up their friends to avoid death by execution. Where do they place their allegiance—to their friends or to their own lives?

A Holocaust example is about as extreme as you can get, but I think that is precisely the kind of hyperbole Jesus employs in requiring would-be disciples to hate their families.

In order to follow Jesus—to call him “Teacher”—one must be willing to at least entertain the notion of losing everything when dire circumstances arise.

If I take this Midrash any further it’ll become a sermon, so I’ll end simply with a question: to whom or what are you most loyal, and how do you live out that loyalty in your daily living?

The Rev. Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday.

Into the Fire is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.