“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple”
Luke XIV: 26.
At first sight this Gospel passage is really quite shocking as it appears to go against everything that we have been taught about the love of God for us and the loving, sacrificial ministry of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Saint Augustine says that this is especially upsetting for new Christians. To those who do not fully grasp its meaning it would appear to be contradictory, indeed we are told to love our enemies and yet here in this passage we are told to hate our families and those nearest to us in kinship.
Are we then to assume that this has been misreported or mis-translated ? If we turn to St Matthew’s gospel (Matthew X: 35-37) the words are only slightly milder, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.”
The Greek word “Miseo” is translated “hate” in St. Luke XIV:25-26; but its fundamental sense is that of “separation” or “exclusion” of one from another – rather than the emotional sense of anger, extreme ill-will or passionate aversion that modern English understands by the word “hate,” This word was adopted by the translators of the Septuagint, the first translation of the Old Testament into Greek dating from the 3rd century BC, to express God’s attitude towards people who were engaged in certain sinful acts which created ritual impurity. Rather than our present understanding of hate, in this context it has a very clear meaning: it means to separate or remove one’s self from entangling relationships or circumstances which might come between the disciple and the master.
With these strong words our Lord is actually challenging our discipleship and the things which may distract us from the service of God. Earlier in St Luke’s Gospel (IX: 57-62), a certain man says to the Lord, “I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest”, which at first sight appears to show absolute commitment, but others find excuses why they cannot do so: one man says that he first needs to go and bury his dead father, another wishes to say goodbye his family first; whilst only a few verses earlier in the Parable of the Banquet (XIV: 18-20) a whole range of other excuses are offered: “I have bought a field and I need to go see it …. I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going to try them out …. I have married a wife, so I cannot come.”
The key to this passage is in verse 27, when the Lord says, “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Clearly there is a prophetic element as the crucifixion has yet to occur. Some authorities have suggested that this may have been a contemporary idiomatic expression conveying the meaning of commitment unto death, whilst others have suggested that this may have been one of the hard sayings that the disciples would only fully understand after the crucifixion had occurred. It is paralleled in St Matthew’s Gospel (X: 38-39), immediately after the Lord has chosen the twelve apostles: “He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Again, in Matthew XVI:24, Jesus says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In both passages our Lord is making it clear to aspiring disciples that discipleship is very costly – so severe, that it is best illustrated as crucifixion.
Saint Basil the great says, “The Father did not send the Only-begotten son, the Living God, to judge the world but to save the world. True to Himself and faithful to the will of the good God His Father, he points to a doctrine whereby we may be made worthy of becoming his disciples with his severe decree.” St. Basil correctly interprets the word “miseo” when he says, “This hatred teaches the virtue of piety by withdrawing us from distractions and does not lead us to devise hurtful schemes against one another.” He also links our bearing the cross to our Christian initiation, “Receiving the baptismal water, we make this same agreement when we promise to be crucified and to die and be buried with him.”
In today’s Gospel passage, our Lord follows with two parables, the Parable of the Tower and the Parable of the King preparing for War; which both teach fortitude and zeal. Saint Basil the great sums this up when he says, “Whoever would truly be a follower of God must break the bonds of attachment to this life. It is impossible for us to achieve our goal of pleasing God unless we snatch ourselves away from fleshly ties and worldly society.”
We have been warned of the sacrifices but also the Lord promises us unimaginable rewards “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew XIX: 29)