QUESTION: What is the meaning of the part of St. Luke’s Gospel where Jesus talks about hatred for father and mother? Surely this passage has a meaning deeper than the actual words.
ANSWER: It seems that the question above is referring to this passage in St. Luke’s Gospel: “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
The context of this statement is found in the section of the Gospel where Jesus is speaking about discipleship. Here he says that nothing has priority over discipleship. He chooses as an example one of the elements of Jewish life that is most precious and most obligatory, that of family and parents. He boldly states that even this cannot come ahead of discipleship. The demands of discipleship are also addressed by Luke in 9:23-24 as well as in Matthew (10:37-39; 16:24) and Mark (8:34-38).
It is a central theme in the teaching of Christ. It rests upon the assumption that the call to faith and discipleship is a radical one. It is one that demands all that a person has to give.
In that context, Jesus states that the nature of the commitment is a very extreme manner. He uses a manner of Semitic speech where the point is made by citing the most extreme terms. The notion of “hatred” is related to the notion of “love.” When one says, “I love that,” it is obvious that it is a priority. “Hatred” then is one way of expressing the notion one is turning from that, and it is no longer the highest priority.
Jesus also makes the point by referring to one of the most significant of the commandments. He states that even a directive of such significance must give way to the primary commitment to discipleship. In other words, all things, even one’s obligation to parents and family, is secondary to the demands of discipleship.
We can only imagine the implications of this teaching on people who began to follow Jesus. Observant Jews or even those who practiced the religions of Rome and Greece must have experienced great pressures from their families and particularly from parents insisting that they not give up the family traditions to follow Jesus.
Yet, it is precisely to these people that Jesus speaks when he reassures them that the commitment to discipleship and the kingdom must be stronger than even those family ties. Despite their allegiance to family, they must follow the demands of the kingdom. While Jesus is certainly not advocating hatred of family, he is making the point that the kingdom of God is above all other values.
This point incidentally is not lost on our contemporary society. It seems that there are often occasions when relationships, careers, personal projects, etc., find a place in our lives before that of commitment to discipleship. Authentic discipleship does not imply abandoning family, but seeing family as part of one’s first commitment to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The commitment to discipleship colors every other decision and relationship in our lives.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.