Hate is a Strong Word
I hate you dad! Words no father enjoys hearing, especially not from his 15 year old daughter. This was the first time he had heard it uttered from her lips. Time stood still as a wave of thoughts crashed into his mind. “What did I do to deserve that emotion directed at me? All I said was that she can’t go to a party with limited adult supervision. Doesn’t she know that I love her? Doesn’t she know that I care about her well being? Doesn’t she know the types of things that often happen at those types of parties? How should I react at this crucial parenting moment? How dare she say such words to me, her father. I should send her to her room and show her who the Alpha in this family is. But I have worked so hard to cultivate a relationship with my little girl over the years that is not dominated by an authoritarian dictatorship style of leadership in this house. But seriously, she just said she hates me? I can’t let that go unchecked. 3 Seconds after the daughter said her hurtful words, the father responds, “that’s so sad that you hate me, because I love you very much, I buy you food, and clothes, I pay for this roof over your head, I even pay for fun trips, like that time we went to Hawaii, and you spent so much time enjoying the waves and the sand.” The daughter rolled her eyes with a huff and stormed away to her room. The father thought to himself, well that could have gone worse, and he said a prayer for his daughter.
I bring up this hypothetical story, mostly to illustrate the force behind the word “hate.” In modern context, the word hate envelopes a passionate negative emotion that often brings with it a desire for terrible things to happen to the object or person that you hate. If one person honestly hates another, it is typical that the first person wants bad things to occur to the second person. Hatred might even go so far as the first person wanting to inflict pain or punishment upon the second person. Hatred might even lead to the terrible desire for the death of someone else. So why then, is Jesus calling his hearers to hate?
It is often through this lens of understanding that we approach this text when Jesus seems to harshly say “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.” We want to say “Jesus, God told us to honor our Father and Mother, and not to hate them. And also you said ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No I am pretty sure that my parents, wife, children and siblings all qualify as my neighbors who I should love as myself. So what exactly are you driving at? Am I supposed to go live as a hermit monk?”
I want to come back to the meaning of the word hate, and how in our modern context it is tied to a person’s emotional state. In biblical times, it was more tied to actions, and did not have the connotation of a desire for negative things. Instead the word we appropriately translate as hate can better be understood in the context of neglect in favor of something else. Now that might sound like splitting hairs and neglect still might not resonate well with honoring father and mother, but lets look at a few more passages from Luke to help us understand fully what Jesus is alluding to.
From Luke 12: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” As you might recall when I preached on that passage a few weeks ago, this passage is not suggesting that Jesus came for the purpose of division, but rather that because of the coming of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, the result would be division, even within the same household. Also for our consideration is Luke 9: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
So Jesus in our text for today is giving a warning to the crowds who are following him. He is saying you have to be all in if you are going to follow me. He is saying that the time might come in the future where your father or mother ridicule you for following me, or they might say to you “why do you give your time or money or talents to the mission of this so called God, when your parents are in need, or your other family is in need?” Your very family could try to turn you away from Jesus and the mission of God, and Jesus says you must neglect them for the sake of following the calling of your Lord and Savior, or you cannot be his disciple. Jesus is not being unhealthily possessive, he is stating facts. The only way to have him as your Lord and Savior is to be all in. If you love your own life more than putting your trust in God, then you are no longer a disciple of Jesus. If you refuse to bear your own cross, that is if you refuse to live out the calling which God has called you to live out for His mission and His kingdom, then you are not a disciple of Jesus. Jesus is giving the crowd who are following him a reality check. Following Jesus is not all sunshine and rainbows. Following Jesus is a challenge, it will bring hardships, there will be sacrifices to be made, relationally, financially, and personally. Jesus lets the crowd know the cost because he is encouraging them to be like a man who wants to build a tower, or a king who recognizes that war is on his doorstep. The wise person fully counts the cost before they embark on an expedition. Jesus is being considerate of those who might be his followers. Jesus is saying know that to be his disciple requires everything you have.
So if this is an accurate portrayal of what it means to be a disciple, then why would anyone do it? If following Jesus means that you are forced to trust in him and how he leads and directs you and hate your family, that is neglect your family for the sake of favoring Jesus and God’s mission, and in fact even more than that, neglect even your own life for the sake of favoring Jesus and God’s mission, and even if necessary to the point of giving up your own life…if following Jesus means all of this then who would be a disciple? The reality is that from a worldly perspective no one would. This is why the coming of Jesus brings division, because those who have been given faith understand it and those who don’t have faith will never get it. Those to whom God has revealed His work understand that it is only by being a disciple that you truly live, both in this life and in the life to come. It is by following God that we understand that striving after the whole world only results in us losing and forfeiting ourself. What Jesus is offering is life, true life, eternal life. He is not saying though, that before you can have what Jesus offers you must first get rid of your family, change your life, or get rid of the things that you have. Jesus is instead offering you life, free of charge, but also warning that there are things in this world that will try to pull you away from following Jesus. It could even be your own family, a love for yourself, or even all that you have, so Jesus warns that unless you are willing to neglect your family if it comes to it, or neglect yourself if it comes to it, or renounce all that you have if it comes to it, you will not endure being a disciple to the end.
Being a disciple is challenging at times. There are times when the cost might seem too challenging to bare. But we remember at those times that we are not in this fight alone. The one who has called you to be a disciple also equips you with the Holy Spirit. It is by the Spirit’s power that we can continue to trust where Jesus is leading us. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we can deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. It is by the Spirit’s power that we can follow Jesus, even when being a disciple is the hardest thing we can do in that moment. So if this world, or your family, or your life circumstances, or your stuff all tempt you to pull away from being a disciple, dig ever deeper into God, trusting in His love and mercy. Amen.