Proper 18 • Luke 14:25–35 • September 4, 2016
By Jason Broge
It is perhaps impossible to read this text and not be struck by the use of the word hate. Some commentators suggest this is a Hebraism, and should be interpreted as implying preference. The Greek word μισέω, however, is best translated as hate or its synonym and not merely as a lesser form of love. It’s usage throughout the New Testament in general, and Luke in particular gives no reason to interpret this as an idiom. Indeed, the only evidence to suggest μισέω might have other connotations is the reader’s need to soften the shocking implications of Jesus’s statement. There is a wish to change “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” into good news: “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well.” The desire to do this is understandable. It has only been four chapters since Jesus confirmed the summation of the law was to love God and love neighbor, only to follow that with a parable that radically pushes open the boundaries for that love of neighbor. In the face of this, let alone the rest of Jesus’s teachings, it seems absurd to suggest that Jesus is calling us to hate our loved ones.
It is important to note that verse 26 is not a good summation of this pericope. The use of the word hate is not a call to not love our father, mother, wife and children; it is not a call to harm our family, or wish them ill; it is a call to heed the radical nature of the call Jesus places on those who would follow him, to count the cost and to realize “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (32). This is a theme that has been building throughout Luke’s account of the ministry of Jesus. There is a very real cost to being a follower of Jesus. It will cost the entirety of your being (9:23–27). There is not time to go back and bury the dead (9:60), no time to say farewell (9:61). The cost of discipleship is nothing less than a complete breach with the things of this world. And what are the things of this world if not our father, mother, wife, and children? Does this mean that we can have no relationship with our mothers and fathers, our sister and brothers? No, as we look to the teachings of Jesus on what it means to follow him we see that it would be impossible to follow him and not have deep meaningful relationships, but it does mean that our relationships are transformed by our relationship with Christ. Our relationships with everyone from family to neighbor, happen in light of—because of—our relationship with Christ. And this relationship, we are assured, will cause discord. Christ promised, repeatedly, that persecution will come to those who follow him; there will be those in the world, those who are counted as friends, and those who are family who will reject us—that is the cost of following Jesus.
This pericope serves as a warning to those who would follow Jesus to take seriously the cost. The two examples in the center of this discourse emphasize this (vv. 28–32). It is best not to think of these as parables. They are less stories, and more examples to be quickly related to. The nature of Jesus’s question is rhetorical. The obvious answer in both examples is, no one would do that. And so Jesus says to anyone who would follow him, recognize what it will cost. Jesus then leaves his hearers with one final image in verses 34–35 to emphasize the point. There is no in-between with salt. Salt is either salty or it isn’t. There is no “sort of” salty. If it isn’t salty it isn’t really salt and it should be thrown away. Its identity is its property and its property is its identity. In the same way one is either a disciple of Jesus, or one isn’t; there is no “sort of” disciple.
A sermon on this pericope will likely center on the cost of following Jesus. The sermon may use the passage as an outline; or the sermon may explore the very real implications for Christian living in today’s world.