The word hate is a strong one. When I was little, my parents had a rule: don’t say, “hate”—at least in most cases. Hate was too full of anger and malice to be used appropriately by a child. The word was essentially excised from my daily vocabulary.
The strong language of hate is what causes many readers to stumble over Jesus’ words 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.
Jesus commands us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. That being the case, it is hard to see how He can possibly command us to hate our family, especially when God gave us the commandment to honor our father and mother.
There are two things that it’s important to understand here. First, Jesus was a Jew, and the families of His culture—like most ancient cultures—were tightly knit. They often claimed the highest loyalties of men, women, and children. Second, Jesus made use of the common language of His day. Just like in our day, exaggeration—hyperbole—was common in order to make a point. You’ve likely heard someone say, “This is going to take forever,” when fifteen minutes is all that’s needed. Jesus is using the same strategy here to give His disciples a lesson.
Jesus is pointing out that whatever other priorities His disciples may have in their life, none compares to the priority of following Him. His comment is an application of the first and greatest commandment, which demands their total allegiance. Compared to their ultimate loyalty, Jesus Christ, His disciples could be said hyperbolically to “hate” their lesser loyalties—even their families. And, in fact, they’re called to “hate” even their own lives.
Put simply, Jesus’ disciples are called to die to themselves and live to Christ—to even die for their faith, like many who were there with Him that day would be called to do, and like many today are called to do. This is why v. 27 says that Jesus’ disciples must take up their cross and follow Jesus. What about you? What holds priority in your life?