23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Is Jesus Really Asking Us to Hate Our Parents?
There’s definite tension in Christianity. On the one hand, Jesus meets everyone where they are. He advocates against judgement. He never demands our presence. Serving Him is a choice, a free will offering. In some ways, it all sounds a bit loosy-goosy—come-when-you-can, I’m-right-here-waiting. (Think the Prodigal Son.)
But then there’s today’s gospel. Nothing loosy-goosy in these words at all. Hate my parents? My own life (verse 26)? That sounds a little extreme and not very Jesus-like. So what does Jesus mean here?
I think Jesus is using a bit of hyperbole in this passage to make it clear that when we choose Him, we aren’t choosing the easy way. He wants to make sure we have full disclosure before we commit. Your parents or siblings don’t like what you believe? You can’t appease them and still follow Him wholeheartedly. There’s no half-heartedly following Jesus either. He wants a total commitment. You’re torn between Him and the world? You have to hate the part of you that wants to veer secular enough to actually let that part of you go. Jesus never said it would be easy; He did, however, say the rewards would be great (Luke 6:23).
In this short passage, Jesus gives two separate examples of weighing out the cost to follow Him. He’s definitely a planner and isn’t advocating spontaneity, at least not when one is making the kind of commitment required to follow Him. You are going to be laughed at and mocked. He wants you to be prepared. You’re going to have to give up material possessions. He wants you to know that. You’re going to have relatives and friends, maybe even close ones, who think you’re crazy and try to get you to change your mind. If you don’t, you may lose those relationships. You’re going to have to pick up whatever your cross is and march forward, maybe all alone. Except you aren’t alone. He is with you. Even though that’s always true, it may not always feel that way.
Jesus knows all that. He loves us enough to make it clear exactly what we’re walking into. He wants to avoid an ambush. Surprise can make us waver. Surprise can make us falter. Surprise can do us in. Jesus doesn’t want there to be any surprises. Jesus doesn’t want us to falter. He wants us to succeed. He wants us to win the ultimate prize (Philippians 3:14)—He wants us with Him.
Does Jesus want us to hate our parents? Of course not. He hopes it will never come to that. But He does want us to be willing to leave them behind if that’s what loyalty to Him requires. It’s a pretty stiff commitment, but He’s made it clear that’s the price that we may have to pay. Where does your ultimate loyalty lie?