Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said, “If anyone come to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-26)
These are challenging words from Jesus. But what does He mean? Does He really want us to hate our parents, siblings, spouse, children, and even ourselves?
This is a text where the literal reading cannot be what is meant. We know that because Jesus would not call us to hate our parents when the Fourth Commandment calls us to honour our father and mother (see Exodus 20:12). Also, elsewhere in the Gospel accounts, Jesus challenges the Pharisees for teaching a tradition that allows people to avoid taking proper care of their parents (see Mark 7:9-13).
Jesus is using hyperbole here, that is, exaggeration to make a point. We love both our family members and God. But the difference between our love for God and our love for our family is as vast as the difference between normal human love and hate. Our love for God is in a totally different category than our love for our family members or ourselves.
This categorical difference becomes very important when loyalties of love collide. What do we do when our parents tell us to do something that we know is sin? Do we obey them or do we obey God? What do we do when turning towards Jesus means turning way from our family?
In his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi describes how, through a close relationship with a good friend, he realized that what the Christian faith taught was true. At the same time, while doing his own research using Islamic sources, Nabeel discovered that there were significant discrepancies between what he had been taught about Mohammed and the Quran and what actually happened. Nabeel left Islam to follow Jesus. His parents and siblings were very upset when he told them and eventually they cut off all contact with Nabeel. Sometimes following Jesus means making hard choices. Does Nabeel love his parents and siblings? Yes, he does. But he loves Jesus more.
And we can only love Jesus with that greater love as we come to realize that His love for us is in a totally different category than familial love. As much as our parents love us, Jesus loves us far, far more. Jesus’ love for us is infinite and unconditional. Jesus does not withhold His love from us when we’ve been bad. Nor does He increase His love for us when we perform well. Jesus loves us with an overflowing, abundant love no matter what.
We are not worthy of this divine love, but it is real, it is true and we can build our life on the firm foundation of God’s love. And our awareness of our unworthiness is what enables us to receive it.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to be aware of our own unworthiness and emptiness so that we can be filled with your love. Help us to love You with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind and help us to see and love other people like You do. Amen.