October 5, 2021 • Article, Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 14:25-26 (NRSV)
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that those who wish to be his disciples must “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” (14:26). Upon first reading, this can be quite distressing. What does Jesus mean by hating those we love most in the world? How is this even possible?
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
When I was a young boy, my parents taught me that hate was wrong. I first learned this lesson when I was about five years old. A kid up the street had mistreated me in a game. When I got home, I announced to my mother that I hated him. Instead of joining me in my fully-justifiable hatred, my mother sent me to my room to “think about it.” She informed me that it’s wrong to hate someone. “You can be angry with them or even dislike them,” she said. “But you can’t hate them.” That was just plain wrong, according to my mother. To back up her claim, she reminded me of the call of Jesus to love our neighbor and even our enemy. Since that boy up the street was a literal neighbor, and since it felt to me like he was my enemy, I had no counter-argument with which to vanquish my mother. So I went to my room to think about how I had to love that kid who had been so mean to me, rather than enjoying how much I hated him.
If I had been a better Bible scholar at five years of age, I might have countered my mom’s claim about Jesus and hate by quoting Luke 14:26, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Not only does Jesus appear to endorse hate in this verse, but also he specifically mentions hatred of one’s own mother. I do wonder how my mom would have reacted if I had proof-texted my hatred with that quotation from Jesus. (I also wonder how I would have reacted. After all, I loved my mother deeply. Hating her was the last thing I’d want to do. How would I have understood the meaning of Jesus in Luke 14:26?)
My mom was pretty sharp, actually. I expect should would have tried to explain to me that when Jesus talked about hate in Luke 14:26, he wasn’t referring to angry feelings toward the kid up the street. I’m pretty sure my mom would have talked about how we should love Jesus most of all. And, you know what, she would have been right about that.
Why should we believe that Jesus’s use of “hate” in this verse has more to do with priorities of affection and loyalty than despising other human beings? Well, first of all, we must remember that Jesus often used hyperbole (exaggeration) to make strong and memorable points. If we interpret his hyperbole literally, we misconstrue Jesus’s meaning. We might conclude, for example, that if we are tempted to sin by something we see, then we should actually gouge out our eyes (Matthew 5:29).
But, in addition to Jesus’s use of hyperbole, something else in the teaching of Jesus points to the fact that “hate” in Luke 14:26 has a particular and non-literal meaning. I’m referring to what Jesus said about love. He was quite clear in his teachings that we’re to love others, including our neighbors and even our enemies (see Luke 6:27, 35, 10:27). We have no reason to believe that Jesus excluded our closest relatives from the command to love. So, unless we think Jesus bluntly contradicted himself, then we’re on the right track if we think that “hate” in Luke 14:26 has a figurative meaning, something other than “feel intense dislike for.”
We are helped in our interpretation of this passage from Luke by a similar text in the Gospel of Matthew. There, Jesus talks about setting family members against each other, adding “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:35). Then he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Surely, this helps us understand Jesus’s meaning in Luke 14:26. Our love for and loyalty to Jesus must be stronger than all other loves and loyalties if we’re going to be his disciples.
Now, I’ve heard teaching like this at least a dozen times in my life, probably more. I’m told I must love Jesus more than my beloved relatives. I get it. But I don’t think I live it, at least not very much of the time. So, when I’m told that I must love Jesus the most, I feel rather stuck. How am I supposed to do this? I can’t rev up love for Jesus by an act of will. At least it doesn’t seem that way. So how can I respond faithfully to Jesus’s teaching about hatred of relatives, and even life itself?
In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion I’ll suggest a couple of ways to answer this question. For now, however, let me invite you to reflect on your own. See what the Lord reveals to you as you wrestle with this passage in the power of the Spirit.
How do you respond to the teaching of Jesus in Luke 14:26?
What do you think Jesus meant in saying that we should “hate” our relatives?
What would it mean for us to hate our own lives?
What helps you to love Jesus? What helps you to be loyal to him most of all?
Set aside to time today to reflect on your loves and hates in life. Ask the Lord to show you whatever you need to see as you seek to be a disciple of Jesus.
Lord Jesus, sometimes the things you say are obviously wonderful. Sometimes, though, they’re hard to understand, even hard to like. I confess that I’m not immediately fond of your saying that I need to hate my closest relatives if I’m going to be your disciple. I know I need to dig deeply into what this means. And I know that following you faithfully will upset the apple cart of my priorities, even my loves.
So I ask for your help, Lord, help in understanding what you are calling me to, help in doing what you commend. I want to be your disciple, whatever it might cost me. But a part of me holds back. Help me, Lord. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: How Can We Make Sense of Jesus’ Instruction to Hate Our Family?
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.