The words of Jesus seem shocking and harsh: “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” (Luke 14:26, ESV). These words have certainly been misunderstood and abused at times through church history.
Part of our problem is with the word hate. Our English meaning is hostility, aversion and loathing. To plug that into Jesus’ statement is to misunderstand. The Old Testament has a usage of hate that means to love less than.
- When the Lord saw that Leah was hated… Genesis 29:31 (Rachel being loved more)
- If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other hated, and both the loved and the hated have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the hated… Deuteronomy 21:15 (English translations often do not use “hate” here as they attempt to make it more understandable.)
Matthew’s account makes the same point but with greater clarity for us: “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. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38, ESV).
Yet even after we come to terms with the word hate, the statement by Jesus is still shocking. We must place being a disciple above a number of very good things – parents, wife, children, family, and even our own life. In other words, we can’t let any of these things, even saving our own skin, keep us from following Jesus.
How does that look in real life? Years ago, I read report on a woman convert in Cambodia. When she began to attend church for worship, her family locked her in her room. She climbed through a window and left home. The church had to provide her temporary shelter until she could get on her feet. She couldn’t return to her family and be a Christian too.
Her mother finally accepted her, but her brother and family continue to reject her. Even after experiencing this rejection from family, she was baptized. She counted the cost for following Jesus and decided that she loved Jesus more than anyone or anything else.