Hate my mother?
Luke 14:26 is one of those verses that appears so incongruous with Jesus’ other teaching that I wonder if it was a misprint or if someone hard of hearing is the one who “remembered” it to the rest of the community.
“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.” Hate my mother? What happened to love your neighbor? Aren’t my children at least my neighbors?
What tears at my heart in this text (Luke 12:25-33 Sunday Pentecost 15 lectionary) is that my entire theology, my understanding of my calling as a priest, is built out of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s relational theology. I see ministry through the eyes of my relationship with God and everyone around me. God, in Bonhoeffer’s theology, is a vulnerable and suffering God and I am to lead and to relate to the world around me through Jesus model of the crucified Christ. So how does hating my family fit into this paradigm?
As did Bonhoeffer, we have to look between the lines of the scriptural words to find the possible essence of meaning, while realizing we will never know the exact meaning of Jesus’ words.
First, and nothing should be lost on this, verse twenty-five tells us that a large crowd was “traveling” with Jesus. We are on a pilgrimage (traveling) from where we exist to where God is fetching us. We have yet to arrive. In fact, we may never arrive at our destination. We are pilgrims, aliens in a foreign land. And as foreigners, we don’t speak the local language.
So, what is this language of “hate” that Jesus is speaking?
My Clinical Pastoral Education mentor taught me that to be present to the hospital patient, the dying parishioner, the suffering soul, I must first detach myself, separate myself, get up on the balcony in order to see their picture of life as it really is without my own personal baggage obscuring my view.
The same is the case in my relationship with the person I love the most. I must, in order to love them, set down my own set of agendas and lower the barrier of my ego. To love them the most, I must stop loving them. To see them, I must stop seeing them, as my ego wants to see them.
In order to be present, to get into the skin of the suffering of the other person, I must first lay down my own baggage, I must detach myself, I must, in order to love, remove myself (totally disregard the relationship). Can I hear them? Can I take into account the critique of someone who loves me? Can they hear me? Not if too much of my own sentimentalism (which is usually confused as love) clouds the window.
How do I find the strength or means to detach? Jesus tells us to be like him. In verse twenty-seven in this text, we hear Jesus say, whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
I know about Jesus’ cross of the crucifixion. Is this what I have to do? What is my cross? The word for “cross” here is “signatio,” the sign. It’s as if I am being asked to wear the ashes of Ash Wednesday on my forehead 24/7. Jesus is asking me if I can become like him to the point of wearing his mark on my forehead. Can my Christianity be clearly evident and prominent for all to see? Can I wear the tattoo of Christ? I am not called to be Jesus – but to be his follower.
Wearing the sign of the Cross is the key to detachment, separating myself so that others see Jesus, not me – as Saint Paul describes Jesus, “he emptied himself.” By setting my ego, and my “self” aside, like Jesus did, I can relate to the other and begin to feel their pain and be fully present to them. As Saint John said, “Jesus must increase and I must decrease.” And Jesus could have said that I must fade away in order for the one I love to be fully present.
In order to love my neighbor as myself, I must, in essence hate (detach from) my family and even myself. In typical Jesus fashion it’s a subversive reversal – an ultimate paradox. In order to live, I must die. In order to love, I must hate (detach).
Too hard? Almost. Painfully difficult? Most likely. Typically Jesus? Absolutely. My mom may not like this. Then again.