And Jesus uses it so liberally in this passage from Luke’s Gospel. Hate you father and mother; hate your wife and children; hate your brothers and sisters; hate your very life itself; in one single sentence in Luke 14:26, Jesus makes following him extremely difficult. Some have tried to water this language down. The New Living Translation uses a via negativa approach, “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters– yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” But that’s not really what Jesus says.
Jesus says “hate.”
Robertson’s Word Pictures is a resource included in BibleWorks 6.0 that though old (copyright 1930-1933) and not always as politically correct as our 21st century ears are used to can still be very helpful in trying to understand some of the nuances of New Testament Greek. Here’s what Archibald Robertson has to say about Luke 14:26:
Hateth not (ou misei). An old and very strong verb miseô, to hate, detest. The orientals use strong language where cooler spirits would speak of preference or indifference. But even so Jesus does not here mean that one must hate his father or mother of necessity or as such, for Mt 15:4 proves the opposite. It is only where the element of choice comes in (cf. Mt 6:24) as it sometimes does, when father or mother opposes Christ. Then one must not hesitate. The language here is more sharply put than in Mt 10:37. The ou here coalesces with the verb misei in this conditional clause of the first class determined as fulfilled. It is the language of exaggerated contrast, it is true, but it must not be watered down till the point is gone. In mentioning “and wife” Jesus has really made a comment on the excuse given in verse 20 (I married a wife and so I am not able to come). And his own life also (eti te kai tên psuchên heautou). Note te kai, both–and. “The te (B L) binds all the particulars into one bundle of renuncianda” (Bruce). Note this same triple group of conjunctions (eti te kai) in Ac 21:28, “And moreover also,” “even going as far as his own life.” Martyrdom should be an ever-present possibility to the Christian, not to be courted, but not to be shunned. Love for Christ takes precedence “over even the elemental instinct of self-preservation” (Ragg).
Jesus really says to hate father, mother, sister, brother, wife, children, and even life. But like my point in yesterday’s post, what he is trying to eliminate are the distractions that would pull us away from Kingdom living. While it is hard for us to hear Jesus use such strong language, it would have been downright radical for the large crowd gathered around him in the year 32 AD. Family was all anyone had in those days. Family was your first obligation and you only retirement plan. To call upon his followers to leave family behind, as he had done, was to rip apart the very fabric of the 1st century economic system. As they said on Sermon Brainwave this week, “It is no wonder they killed this guy in the end.”
In nine verses, Jesus dramatically reorients life for his would-be disciples. I wonder how prepared I am to hear these words from Jesus, let alone preach them come Sunday?