25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
Luke 14:25-27, 33
Using very strong language, Jesus tells the crowds who are following him that they must renounce everything if they want to follow him. This includes giving up material ambitions, familial ties, even their own lives. He goes so far as to claim that to follow him means to embrace suffering.
Why would Jesus, who’s main teaching seems to center upon love, suddenly claim that following him requires hating my own family? I hear so much about the blessings I’ll receive by following Jesus; what does he mean, then, by saying I must renounce everything and bear my own cross?
On the surface this verse seems contrary to much of the rest of the teachings of the New Testament concerning Christ. For Christ to say that following him means I have to hate anyone, much less my own family, seems to fly in the face of his whole teaching of love. In other places (Matt. 5:21-26) he teaches that harboring ill-will towards another in any way is subject to judgment. Loving my parents is such a big deal that it made it into God’s top 10 list of rules to live by (Exodus 20:12 – Honor your father and mother). In fact, that commandment comes with a very material blessing: "…that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."
Which, of course, brings up yet another point: Throughout the Old Testament God promises that following him will bring blessings, not suffering. Deuteronomy 7:12 – 8:10 describes a long list of blessings that will come from keeping the law as set down by Moses, given of God. The book of Judges describes the repeated suffering of Israel brought on by their disobedience, and the alternating blessings bestowed as they returned to the Lord. In fact, the covenant of works seems pretty clearly oriented towards the idea of gaining material blessings by following God.
Jesus himself continues that pattern in the New Testament. His ministry is littered with healings, he fed thousands on different occasions with scant resources, and on more than one occasion he brought in miraculous catches of fish. He was clearly using the power of God to bring blessings on the people.
A closer look, though, reveals that Jesus throughout his ministry dealt with the costs of following him. At first simple things became apparent to the disciples, like not having enough time or space to eat or rest because of the great crowds gathering to be healed. At one point, when Jesus’ mother and brothers were searching for him, he made the statement, "Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother." So obviously he was teaching by example that his biological family was not as important as his "family" in the kingdom of God.
But is he really teaching that we should hate our parents? Reading the paraphrase in The Message gives a different wording ("Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple."), but all the other English translations to which I have access, King James, New King James, NASB, NIV, & ESV, all use the word hate in that sentence. I haven’t done a thorough word study, but obviously the original Greek has language that pretty clearly implies the use of that word or it wouldn’t be so pervasive among the translations.
Still, I don’t think Christ was contradicting himself here. Without exception the commentaries I’ve read interpret this statement to mean disaffection of some sort, not antagonistic hatred. Taking the statement in context, considering the parable of the banquet in which those who preferred to be with their field, or their oxen, or their wives, or other worldly affections, to the invitation to be with the Lord, and the following verses about considering the costs of discipleship, it seems clear that the main point of this verse is that the things of God are to be much preferred over the things of this world.
Even so, I believe that Christ had more in mind here than that we love the world less than we love him. "Hate" and "renounce" are pretty strong words, neither of which suggests "love," even with a qualifier of "less" or even "very little," nay, not even "almost none." Had there been some variance in the translations I might be able to accept that, but the complete agreement among all of the texts besides the outright paraphrase screams for at least some acceptance of the current understanding of the meaning of these terms.
What I get out of this for myself is that I need to accept that I will never find true happiness, peace, or serenity in the things of this world. No matter how I try to wrest joy from pleasure, that juice does not come from the thorns of worldly attachment. Drugs, sex, food, relationships, television, fast cars, shiny things, expensive stereos, none of these things can bring true felicity. For that, the only source is God himself. To the extent that I continue to try to find happiness in the things of this world will I remain miserable and dissatisfied.
This does mean that holding on to worldly relationships in an attempt to find peace will fail and ultimately bring only pain. It does not, however, mean that I should forsake the duties assigned to me by the Lord, specifically, to love the Lord with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind, and love my neighbor as myself. I must forgive those who repent as often as they do, and must make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that Christ as commanded. Included in my neighbor, and the repentant, and all nations, I must include my father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even myself. I am not to look to these people, or the world in general, for happiness, surely not for salvation. But I am to show them true love in the form modeled by Jesus himself.