Did Jesus Ask Us to Hate Our Family?
Shocking words. Words that may strike us as harsh on the surface. But what did he mean?
In Luke 14:26, Jesus spoke some words that surely captured the immediate attention of his hearers just as they do ours: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Shocking words. Words that may strike us as harsh on the surface. But what did he mean?
Jesus contended in the previous text that many who claim to desire to eat the kingdom feast are deceiving themselves. Now, as large crowds follow him, he turns to them and challenges them about what it means to be his disciple (cf. Luke 7:9; Luke 5:11; Luke 9:59–60; Luke 16:13; Luke 18:29–30).
Those in the crowds cannot be Jesus’ disciples unless they hate family members: fathers, mothers, wives (cf. Luke 14:20), children, brothers, and sisters (cf. Deut. 33:9). The word “hate” is hyperbolic and stunning, arresting our attention. Obviously, we should not literally hate our families, since following Jesus involves loving both God and neighbor (Luke 10:25–27). Still, it is not difficult to understand Jesus’ point. He is to have absolute rule and sovereignty over one’s life; no family relationship can take precedence over one’s commitment to Jesus. Indeed, disciples must hate their own lives, which means again that Jesus must be first and foremost over any other desire or consideration (cf. Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33).
What Jesus means is clarified in Luke 14:27: disciples must be willing to die, as those doomed to die by crucifixion carried their cross to the place of execution (cf. Luke 9:23; Gal. 6:14). Jesus calls upon people to follow him until death. The implicit Christology here is astonishing, for Jesus is certainly no ordinary rabbi. Discipleship to Jesus never ends. And one must be willing to give up one’s life for Jesus’ sake! It is clear from this that Jesus has the same stature and identity as God.
The Nature of Discipleship
The first of two illustrations about the nature of discipleship is provided. First, the desire to build a tower is contemplated. Any businessman with a modicum of sense calculates the cost to ensure that he has the funds necessary to complete a job. If one rushes into laying a foundation and then realizes he lacks funds to complete the job, others would ridicule him for lacking necessary foresight. Wisdom in building does not stop at beginning a task but must include its completion. So too, disciples must not claim in a rush of enthusiasm that they want to follow Jesus without carefully considering his total claim upon their lives.
The second illustration pertains to a king going to war. Jesus paints a scenario in which a king with ten thousand troops braces to meet a king with twenty thousand. In such a situation, the first king considers whether he can withstand the battle. If he cannot, he sends a delegation before the brink of war so that he can win favorable terms of peace. The point of the illustration for discipleship is that one must consider in advance what is required if one is going to be a disciple.
Are You Willing to Give Up Everything?
The application from the two parables is now drawn in Luke 14:33, and what is required is similar to what we find in Luke 14:26–27, though stated in other terms. Again, the radical nature of Jesus’ demands stands out. People must renounce all that they have in order to be Jesus’ disciples. This requirement should not be pressed literally.
Wealthy women who were Jesus’ disciples did not give up all their wealth but used it to support Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:1–3). John the Baptist required tax collectors not to surrender their possessions but to work ethically (Luke 3:12–13). Zacchaeus did not give up all that he owned but gave half to the poor and repaid fourfold those he extorted (Luke 19:1–10). John Mark’s mother used her large home for a church assembly (Acts 12:12–16). What Jesus requires, then, is a willingness to sacrifice all for his sake. Nothing belongs ultimately to us; we are prepared to give all for the service of the King, as he sees fit.
The saying about salt is rather mysterious and might not at first glance connect with the preceding. Still, in Greek the link is close, as evidenced by a word often translated “then” or “therefore” (Gk. oun). In any case, it makes most sense to link what is said here with the preceding instead of seeing it as a disconnected saying. Salt is a preservative and flavor enhancer; the latter is in view here, as the prospect of salt becoming tasteless is contemplated. If salt loses its taste, nothing can restore its flavor; it is completely worthless.
Jesus’ speaking of the salt as having no use for the land or for the manure pile seems strange, as salt was not used for soil or manure anyway. This is probably a colorful way of saying that in such situations the salt is thrown away as completely useless. Readers are called upon to hear with their ears, meaning that they must discern the significance of what is said about salt. Disciples must give themselves to Jesus wholly. If they lose their flavor, if they succumb to selfishness and sin, they will be worthless and will face final judgment. But they will retain their distinctiveness in the world if they put Jesus above all else, whether family, friends, or finances.
Editors’ note: This article is is adapted from the ESV Expository Commentary: Matthew–Luke (Crossway)by Thomas R. Schreiner. The ESV Expository Commentary series is edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar. This article originally appeared at the Crossway blog.