Commentary on Luke 14:25-33
No one considers hate a fruit of the Spirit; rather, it is commonly viewed as the antithesis of love.
Yet Jesus turns to the large crowds following him and proclaims, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-26).
Waxing poetic, Jesus continues with this parallel line: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:27). This declaration comes on the heels of Jesus’ teaching when he was a dinner guest in the house of a leading Pharisee; he admonished the guests not to clamor for the VIP seats but to save them for other guests that the host may deem more worthy (14:1, 7-11). Further, the host himself should consider inviting the poor and disabled to the feast instead of his social peers and his wealthy neighbors (14:15-24).
In our text this week, Jesus tells the traveling crowds, which might be composed mostly of poor peasants and freed or enslaved women and men (or not?), that they must hate (miseo) their close family members and develop a hatred for life itself. This hatred is synonymous with or a metaphor for bearing the cross as Jesus’ disciple. If the crowds are poor, they are likely despised because of and blamed for their poverty. If they are wealthy, they might be reviled for building their wealth on the backs of enslaved peoples and the masses. And within their respective communities, they likely have been encouraged to distrust and despise each other, their peers and neighbors.
Women in general are the victims of misogyny in patriarchal societies, and enslaved women are susceptible to a similar and different kind of bodily, sexual abuse and violence. How are we to understand this requirement to hate in the context of the Lucan Jesus’ teaching that his disciples should love their enemies and treat those who hate them well (Luke 6:27-36)?
I propose that Jesus does not refer to a hate toward family members in the sense of an absence of love (Luke 14:26; see also 1:71; 6:22, 27). But Jesus is addressing the consequences and sometimes contradictions and challenges that occur when one chooses to follows God, as Jesus does. It is similar to the statement Jesus makes at 16:13: “No household slave/domestic servant (oiketes) can slave (douleuo) for two masters; for she will either hate (miseo) the one and love (agapao) the other, or be devoted to the one and despise (kataphroneo) the other. You cannot slave for (douleuo) God and wealth” (my translation). Both masters will demand absolute loyalty and submission, and will not tolerate neglect.
I do not believe God justifies enslavement or views God’s self as an enslaver. But following God can and sometimes does interfere with putting family above compassion for the most vulnerable in society and above the justice and love of God.
Jesus understands that there are consequences associated with following Jesus, with conducting one’s life in the way that Jesus does. Ironically, Simon of Cyrene was forced to bear weight of Jesus’ cross on his back while following behind Jesus as he made the torturous journey to the place of the Skull where Jesus was crucified (Luke 23:26, 33).
One must be willing:
- to champion the cause of the poor and dis-eased;
- to view one’s calling as more expansive than the confines of the Temple or church;
- to sometimes buck traditions—and those who view those traditions as infallible;
- to live a life of relative poverty, unwilling to take bribes and to amass wealth on the backs of the oppressed and unaware;
- to struggle for the alleviation of poverty and a living wage for all at the expense of one’s own privilege; and
- to expand one’s conception of “family” to include neighbors far and near.
Carrying the cross is a daily struggle and the commitment must be renewed every day when confronted with the temptation to lay it down (Luke 9:23-25). Perhaps what Jesus means by hating family is to refuse to live by narrow, exclusive ideas of family when it comes to meeting human needs and contributing to the wholeness of all human beings.
It is the Lucan Jesus that tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, expanding the boundaries of neighbor love that transcends religious affiliation, ethnicity, race, and other socially constructed categories (Luke 10:25-37). The one who loves mercy more than life (i.e., the risk-taker for justice) is the one who will extend mercy to the stranger/neighbor in need.
Compassion is not the absence of fear but the overwhelming, undeniable summons to engage in acts of love and justice. If one accepts a narrow view of family and values life more than the justice and love of God, one will not take risks for the most vulnerable in society; one will not privilege the justice and love of God above social position, wealth, celebrity, and applause.
Jesus asks the crowd to count the cost of following him just as they would count the cost for building a tower. The one who fails to count the cost, cannot complete the building project and will suffer ridicule for his incompetency and shortsightedness (Luke 14:29-30) Further, what king would go to battle with insufficient troops? What is the consequence of not counting the cost? Caught with his pants down, so to speak, the king must wave the white flag of surrender long before he reaches the battle line and submit to his enemies on their terms (14:32). These brief parables require that the traveling crowd use their common sense; they do not have to be builders by trade or kings to identify with the stories. The moral of the parables is that not one of them can be Jesus’ disciple without giving up all her or his possessions (14:33).
But builders cannot build and kings cannot defend their kingdoms without sufficient resources. So what is Jesus talking about?
Jesus started this teaching by asserting that his disciples must be willing to hate their family members and life itself, and he ends with telling the crowd that they must relinquish all their possessions. Perhaps Jesus is speaking to a relatively wealthy crowd here. He did just leave a dinner at which the guests were among the upper crust and not the poor or diseased. In the Acts of the Apostles, considered the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, the believing community is encouraged to sell property and contribute the proceeds to the community so that no one among them lives in poverty (Acts 2:45; 4:32). In Luke, Jesus is pleased when the chief tax collector Zacchaeus pledges to give half of his possessions to the poor and to make amends to anyone he has defrauded (Luke 19:1-10).
Jesus’ admonition that the traveling crowds relinquish their possessions (they are not a possession-less people, apparently, but perhaps wealthy) is a challenge to reject greed, hoarding, and overabundance for the sake of overabundance and in favor of sharing and the elimination of poverty and its effects (Luke 12:13-21, 33-34). We are a society that encourages greed over giving, hoarding over sharing, and overabundance as a marker of social status over the elimination of poverty. What humans have created, we can eliminate by daily recommitting ourselves to the God who loves compassion, mercy, and justice and hates poverty, greed, inequity, and injustice.