Does Jesus Ask Us to Hate?
The first day of kindergarten is always a momentous occasion, a day that parents and children alike eagerly anticipate. Preparing for this first day can be quite involved: emergency contacts are to be named, medical issues documented, and release forms signed.
What would you do if the school demanded that each student hate their father, mother, brother, and sister, even their own lives? Would you send your child to a school that advertised that as a requirement?
Probably not. The demand to hate family and friends seems overly harsh and cruel. Who in their right mind would ever propose such a criterion? Jesus proposes such a criterion.
Jesus says explicitly that if someone wishes to enroll in the school of discipleship, he or she must be willing to “hate their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes even life itself” (Luke 14:26). Jesus is clear and pointed; his words cannot be misunderstood.
How do we reconcile such an extreme statement with the other grace-filled exhortations that fill the gospels? How can these words come from the lips of the one who is the incarnation of God’s love and mercy?
This statement seems contrary to everything we know about Jesus. Ultimately, the question we must wrestle with is relatively simple — does Jesus really ask his followers to hate others?
Jesus Speaks of Priority, Not Emotion
Jesus was a masterful teacher, known to covey the Word of God “with authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). Jesus’ teaching often contradicted the wisdom of the day and the ways of the world.
He did this through image-rich stories, dramatic sayings, and the use of exaggeration and hyperbole. An example of this is when Jesus exhorted his followers to cut off their left hands lest they caused sin in their lives (Matthew 5:30).
Obviously, Jesus was not advocating that we take a saw to our limbs to avoid sinful behavior. We all know that the root of sin is not in the actions of our bodies but in the inclinations of our hearts. The extreme language of the statement helps us uncover this larger lesson.
This is what Jesus does in his statement regarding hating others. In calling his followers to hate other people, Jesus describes how our allegiance to him is to be of primary importance in our lives.
Our love for Jesus is to take precedence over all other relationships. Matthew records the same teaching this way. “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
Jesus is not calling his followers to loathe or detest their families but to consider how their love for Jesus takes priority in their lives.
The primary purpose of exaggeration is to make us uncomfortable. This was undoubtedly the case for those who heard this statement. Remember, the fifth commandment was to “honor your father and mother;” obeying this commandment was incredibly important for Jewish faithfulness.
If Jesus’ words seem shocking in the modern context, it was doubly so in the first-century Jewish world. Yet this is precisely the point.
Jesus wants his followers to wrestle with his statements, to scratch their heads and ponder the implication of what he says. It is as we wrestle with his words that we catch the larger point he is making.
Discipleship Defines Our Relationships
The priority of Jesus in our lives has profound implications for our relationships. As followers of Jesus, we must be willing to view all our relationships through the lens of Christ’s presence. All our relationships are placed under his Lordship.
This is not as easy as it sounds. Our discipleship may cause division in our relationships. Others may respond negatively to our devotion to Christ. Expressing the love of Jesus may, in fact, place us in the position to be rejected.
Sadly, such rejection may occur from those who are closest to us: mothers, fathers, spouses, and even children. The history of the Christian church testifies to this reality. Even today, there are Christians who suffer rejection and persecution due to their relationship with Jesus.
Jesus teaches us that such a rejection is a natural consequence of our discipleship. Discipleship to Jesus naturally stands in opposition to the values and structures of the world around us.
Thus, Jesus says, “I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10:35-36).
When we find ourselves at odds with the world or with the members of our own family, we must be willing to turn away from those who have rejected us and maintain our faithful allegiance to Jesus. To do otherwise is to abdicate our devotion to Christ for the sake of ease or popularity.
The Radical Call of Christian Love
As we have seen, although using the extreme language of hate, Jesus, in fact, calls us to respond to others in a Christlike way. Despite possible rejection, our call is the same: to express the love and grace of Jesus.
This naturally affects how we interact with others:
- We love our enemies and bless those who curse us;
- We act in grace and mercy;
- We are lavish with forgiveness.
The fact is, this is easy to say but harder to live out.
Responding to others in Christian love is more radical than we sometimes give it credit. When Christ is the Lord of our relationships, we are pushed to radical forms of hospitality, acceptance, and mercy.
A wonderful example of this is Paul’s letter to Philemon. In this letter, Paul urges Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus. On its face, the request seems simple: Onesimus ought to be received in love.
In truth, however, Paul’s words are much more radical. Rather than a call to forgive Onesimus’ debt and welcome him back into service, Paul asks nothing less that Philemon free Onesimus.
Paul writes, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you may have him back for good, no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, a dear brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord” (vv. 15-16).
What Paul means is that Philemon is to see Onesimus, a slave with no rights at all, as a fellow human being, one made in the image of God and redeemed by the love of Jesus.
Philemon’s devotion to Jesus demanded that he make a public and civic declaration that Onesimus was no longer anyone’s slave but a free citizen of the Roman empire. Such an action was unheard-of in the first-century world.
What Does This Mean?
What does it mean for Jesus to be a priority for us, to be the Lord of our relationships? Is there someone for whom we need to embrace in radical love and acceptance? Is there an enemy that Christ demands we bless, a stranger we are called to welcome?
Conversely, have we placed our relationships with others above our connection to Jesus? These are questions we must sit with, even wrestle with.
The good news is that we do not wrestle with these questions alone. The Spirit is with us to help us in our discipleship.
As long as we have a heart open to the presence of Christ, we can be assured that the Spirit will continue to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). So let us be willing to forsake all things for the sake of the gospel, take up our cross, and follow him.
For further reading:
Does God Really Love Everyone?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/trendobjects
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.