But then there is a noticeable shift in tone in the next verse when Jesus says, “Now, if you don’t hate your father and your mother, your wife and your children, your sisters and your brothers, indeed, your life itself, you cannot be my disciple…if you don’t sell all your possessions, you cannot be my disciple.”
Where did that come from? That is about as hard a “saying” as it gets! Is Jesus saying this sarcastically? Did he fail his class on church growth?
Thank goodness, we can temper it a bit. That is, we can place these teachings in a larger context and see what Jesus is doing. For example, we can see that the word “hate” here is a loaded word, an unfortunate word, but it is a word that we might call hyperbole, or exaggeration. To hate something in Jesus’ day meant to love something less than what you currently do.
Therefore, what Jesus is doing is making a point to a large crowd by using a Jewish idiom or form of language; after all, he doesn’t have time to conduct a research seminar; he is heading to Jerusalem. What Jesus is saying here as he is walking along is holding up a sign that helps us consider what we are getting into if they follow him.
The reason this is important is because in first century Israel – kinship and family and possessions had the highest loyalty; in many ways family determined a person’s station in life, or what a person would do. Possessions were a sign of status and stability.
What Jesus is teaching upsets all of that; to be his follower means that you will need to let go of certain things of value and join something larger than your family, something more important than mere possessions – indeed, you are becoming part of a much larger community, nothing less than God’s kingdom.
Hence, the word “hate” here is not an emotion. Rather, as suggested, the word means a “ranking of priority.” It is naming of what you are willing to let go of. If you hate your family, you are willing to see that there is something more than family, or something more than possessions in life; that something more, of course, is what we call God’s rule in our lives; there is something much bigger, more encompassing.
Therefore, if we are to come to grips with this passage today, we might ask what do we value the most? What do we see as demanding our ultimate loyalty? Family? Material possessions? Job? Self-importance? What is it that entangles us in our walk with God?
These are questions for self-examination. They help us to understand the kind of life Jesus is calling us to share.
Rev. Andy Kinsey