One of the hardest sayings of Jesus is His call to radical discipleship in Luke 14:26: “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.” For Jesus to make such a demand says something very unique about Him, for no ordinary person would be so bold. This also tells us that following Jesus will at times be costly putting us at odds with our own families.
Jesus is using at least two figures of speech in this demanding call. The first is hyperbole which is exaggerating something for effect. If I say, “I hate being late,” I am using extreme language to let everyone know how much I value punctuality. Jesus does not mean literal hate but is using extreme language to show us the serious demands of discipleship.
The second figure is metonymy which literally means to “change names.” It substitutes one thing for another associated with it, like cause for result. In this case the exaggerated emotion of hate (the cause) is substituted for the result which it produces such as “esteeming less” or “choosing second.” My friend Dr. Dwight Perry as a Chicago Bears fan once told me he hates the Packers. He was using hyperbole because he was very calm when he said it, and he was also using metonymy substituting the cause (the exaggerated emotion of hate) for its result (that he chooses the Bears above the Packers as a fan). So, we can read Jesus words this way, “If anyone comes to me and does not choose second (or esteem less) his own father,” etc. Let’s apply this.
Our parents’ care is not the issue. Caring for our parents when they become dependent is not the same as them contradicting God’s will. The 5th Command calls us to honor our parents including caring for them when they can’t themselves. Jesus did this for His own mother while dying on the cross setting an example for us. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made to insure this, but in such cases those sacrifices are the will of Jesus.
Jesus must come first in our affections or desires. A Jewish friend of mine became a Christian because as he was reading the Gospels he said, “I fell in love with Jesus.” Christianity is not only a set of doctrines we believe, but it is a relationship we enter into based upon love. Sometimes loving one person supremely (like a spouse) means loving others less. If we have really come to know Jesus we will love Him supremely over others we still love, but less.
Jesus’ will must exceed family if need be, and our own personal desires also. Jesus means we must esteem our families less than Him or choose them second to Him, as we also do our own selves. It is not an emotion that is really at issue (hate), but the choice that Jesus calls us to make. We can love our parents dearly, yet choose to follow Jesus when they disagree with Him. Discipleship then is a matter of obedience rather than feeling or convenience. Disciples obey.
Jesus’ demand must be right if He is God. Since God is the greatest good there is, His will must also be our highest good. Whatever He requires is right and true and our highest duty. Since Jesus is God He can do no other than make this radical demand or He would devalue His own person. As hard as some choices may be we know they are right because He wills them.
Your friend, seeking to follow Him, Pastor Brian (:-}).