Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
This week I read the Gospel last Sunday evening so that it would start percolating. After just one reading I immediately had an idea – Who can I get to preach for me this Sunday! My goodness – “Hate” everyone! So much for loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek and all that other happy business! Or is it?
I think you are all probably aware that nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus preach hate. Many people “use” the Gospel to preach hate, but it is not what Jesus intended. In this passage, Jesus is using a Semitic exaggeration which, at the time, was a popular way of expressing an idea. Think of it in terms of one of our popular expressions, “It’s to die for.” “A Heath Bar blizzard from DQ is to die for!” Well, a Heath Bar blizzard is a tasty creation, but is it really worth dying for? The word Jesus uses is properly translated as hate, but it means that we should have no ties that bind us or limit our freedom in serving God. So a better translation of the word hate would be, “love less than.” Jesus is saying, “You cannot be my disciple unless you love everything else less than you love me.” That is a difficult teaching, for some Jesus may have well meant hate as we understand it, because loving Jesus above our own will, desire and plans is not always an easy task.
Ivan the Great. Russian leader during the 15th century. He became so consumed with his military campaigns that he didn’t stop to take a wife and produce an heir. His advisors became concerned, so they find for him the daughter of the King of Greece to marry.
The King of Greece was delighted and the marriage was agreed, on one condition – Ivan must become a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Following his instruction in the faith, Ivan and 500 of his most skilled soldiers made their way to Greece for the baptism and the wedding.
Upon arrival in Athens Ivan was to be baptized into the Orthodox Church. His soldiers, always loyal to their leader, asked if they could also be baptized. After a crash course in the Orthodox faith, they too were ready for baptism. Ivan and his guard would be baptized together in a mass baptism, to be attended by huge crowds from all over Greece. The baptism was to be by full immersion. Imagine the scene: five hundred soldiers in full battle gear wading into the Mediterranean for baptism.
However, at the last minute there was a problem: the Church did not allow professional soldiers to be members. If they were to be baptized into the church they would need to give up their occupation. This was unacceptable to Ivan and his soldiers, so a compromise was reached. As the priests baptized each soldier, the soldier would draw his sword and lift it high above his head. Then he would be baptized – all of him… except for his fighting arm and sword.
St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Those soldiers said, “We will be baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, except for this one part of me – this one arm and my sword I’m going to keep for myself.”
When Jesus tells us that we must “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself,” what he is actually saying is that we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from him. We are not to place anything between Him and us – not a fighting arm, another relationship, our own desires, etc., etc., etc., Nothing. Why? God answers this himself. It is part of the Ten Commandments, “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” His love for us is so complete that he can not tolerate anything coming between us.
For many, this type of life sounds as though we as Christians are to walk around all day long singing Kumbaya and doing nothing else. However, the result – the life – of loving God above all others is quite different than we would expect.
There was a boat way out in the Pacific ocean that encountered a horrendous storm in the middle of the night and was capsized. Near by was an island and when daybreak came there were two men lying on the beach – the only survivors. As they pulled themselves together they discussed what they should do and concluded that they should pray – go figure.
However, the first man got the idea that perhaps one of them might be more righteous than the other and that God might hear the prayers of one over the other, but maybe not answer any of their prayers if they stayed together. So, the first man devised the plan where they would split the island and each was to stay on his side. The second man calmly agreed, they shook hands and went their separate ways.
On the first night the first man prayed for something to eat. The following morning he came into the most remarkable grove of fruit trees imaginable. Everything a person needed to keep alive. Not only that, a small cove on his side of the island provided an abundance of fish that he easily caught with his bare hands. For the second man there was nothing. He did find an old piece of nearly rotten fruit on the beach that he tried to choke down, but it was hardly enough to keep him alive.
Several weeks later the first man decided that he did not want to be alone on the island, so he prayed that the Lord would send him a wife. That night there was another shipwreck and the lone survivor was a beautiful woman. They were perfect companions and got along famously, but for the second man, again nothing – he couldn’t even find a volleyball that he could name Wilson. His conditions were perfectly dreadful.
Well the months went by and the first man and his wife decided they might try and pray to be rescued and wouldn’t you know it, the following morning a boat floated up in the cove. It was all gassed up and ready to go. So they swam out to it, fired up the engine and headed off. Suddenly there was a voice from heaven. It was God. “Are you going to leave the other man behind?” “Sure,” said the first man, “Look at him. He is obviously some heathen. Here I have prayed and received everything I asked for and he has received nothing. He must be some great sinner to have you treat him so terribly.” “On the contrary, he has also had each of his prayers answered, even though he has prayed the same thing everyday. In fact, if it weren’t for him, you would surely be dead by now.” “Oh,” says the first man, “what was his prayer?” “He prayed that all YOUR prayers be answered.” (Found this story here.)
Jesus said, “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,” and we are to “hate” in the same manner as man who had nothing “hated” the man who received everything. When we love God so completely, we don’t have to ask God to outline his will and plans for our life. Instead, when we love God completely, we are fulfilling his will and plans for our lives. Then our actions – our very lives – reflect the love he has for us, back into the world.
Our God is a jealous God. When Jesus says that we are to “hate,” he is saying we must put him first. On the surface, that sounds very difficult. How can I give up loving my father or my mother? My spouse and my friends? However, if we love God above all others, what we will soon understand, is that we will love those individuals in our lives far more than we ever have in the past. For in loving God completely, we learn what it means to be truly loved; and instead of trying to discern God’s will for our lives, what we discover… is that we are living it.