Southern Baptists hold a high view of Scripture, believing that inspiration involves even the words of the text, the words and their interpretation matter. In the vast majority of New Testament passages, the meaning and application is reasonably clear. Notice that I said, “vast majority.”
The truth is, there are some texts that present a major challenge for understanding what the Jesus, Paul or Peter meant. When these texts involve the words of Jesus, they are sometimes referred to as “hard sayings.” In this and future columns I am going to highlight some of these “hard sayings.”
In Luke 14, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, a rather lengthy journey in Luke’s Gospel. Jerusalem will be the place of Jesus’ suffering and death. The end of His earthly ministry is drawing near. This is the time when Jesus focused His teaching on the most basic and weighty matters.
On the way, Jesus turned the focus to discipleship and the cost of following Him. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
Well, there it is in red letters, we are to hate the members of our family if we are serious about following Jesus. Is it possible that Jesus meant this in a literal way? If not, then what did He mean?
To begin, earlier in the journey to Jerusalem, Luke recorded Jesus’ summary of the whole Law as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and love your neighbor as yourself.” Twice in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus commanded that we are to love our enemies, and even love those who hate us (6:27, 35).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drew a close parallel between having hatred towards a person and committing murder (Matt. 5:22). Now, which of these is not like the other? On the one hand, would Jesus command that His followers must love neighbor and enemy, and on the other, command that we must hate our own family members? To borrow the words of Paul, “May it never be.”
But if that’s not what He meant, then what did Jesus mean? Perhaps we get some help from the Old Testament. In Gen 29, Jacob is married to both Rachel and Leah. The text notes that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. But, when the Lord saw that Leah was “unloved,” he blessed her with a child (Gen 29:30).
The word translated “unloved” is a Hebrew word that means “hated.” Did Jacob literally “hate” Leah, or did he merely love her less than Rachel? Most certainly, the meaning is “loved less.” Perhaps this passage provides some context for Jesus’ words in Luke 14:26.
This is not a call to hate with extreme prejudice, seething anger or bitterness. But if we are to be Jesus’ disciples, we must love Jesus above all, even above our immediate family. Perhaps the parallel in Matt 10:37 captures the meaning more clearly when Jesus said, “The one who loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; the one who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
It is safe to say that Jesus would not ask anyone to have hatred toward their family members. Yet the shocking nature of His words demonstrate the radical nature of discipleship. To be His disciples, we must subordinate all other values and relationships to Him. Jesus must be THE love of our lives.