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The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Does Jesus Teach Hate? 


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...The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year C continues our journey through the Gospel of Luke with another one of Jesus’ hard sayings. There are certain sayings that are in the Gospel of Luke and are particularly tough; they’re difficult. We looked, in an earlier video, at Jesus’ statement about the number of the saved, will it many or few? And here we encounter what might be (at least in my experience with students in the classroom) the most scandalous or shocking or difficult of all of Jesus’ teachings in the gospel for people to understand and to accept. It’s his demand that if you want to be his disciple, you have to hate your mother, your father, your sisters, your brother, your wife, your children and even your own life, otherwise you can’t be his disciple. Now in our day and time, the idea of hatred (hate crimes), is widely held up as one of the worst things a person can do (to be a hater, to be filled with hatred). And so it’s shocking to see this kind of statement on the lips of Jesus. So what I want to do is I want to walk through it, and read it, and I’ll try to put it in a Jewish 1st Century context, explain it, and also look at how the tradition has interpreted this, because I think this is one of those passages that even devout Christians are genuinely concerned about, or genuinely confused by. They don’t know necessarily what to make of what Jesus is saying here. So let’s look at Luke 14:25-33, the gospel for today:

Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, “If any one 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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Alright, end of the gospel. I don’t envy the homilists out there because this is a tough one to preach. I think this is one of Jesus’ hardest hard sayings. Well, unless you’re a teenager. Actually if you’re a teenager you might actually think this is one of Jesus’ easiest sayings. Think about it. Can’t stand my mom and dad? Check. Can’t stand my brothers and sisters? Check. Hate my life? Check. Maybe if you’re a teenager, this one’s easy. But for everybody else, this is a tough saying of Jesus.

So what’s going on here? What does Jesus mean? Alright, so the first thing we want to walk through here is, point number 1, he’s laying the conditions for being one of his disciples. That’s what the whole passage is about. It’s about the cost and the conditions of discipleship. And I’m sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere in earlier videos that the word disciple, mathetes, literally means “a student”. So if you want to be a student of Jesus, this is what you have to do. You have to hate your mother, father, sister, brother, wife, children, and even your own life, otherwise you can’t be his student. Now somebody might say, “Oh, Dr. Pitre, does the Greek word ‘hate’ mean something different?” We’ll see in a minute that there’s a nuance that can be had here, but I think that in its original context the ordinary meaning of the Greek word ‘hate’, miseó, is exactly what it means in English: hate. Think about the word “misogynist”, it’s from the Greek miseó (to hate), it’s somebody who hates women. That’s what a misogynist is. Or misanthrope (not that people say that anymore), a misanthrope is somebody who hates people, because anthropos means man (or person; human being), mis is from miseo (to hate). So the normal meaning of miseo does mean “to hate”, which would mean “to will evil to another”, and it’s usually the opposite of the word “love”, agapao, agape. So the question becomes (real quickly), “Why does Jesus say to hate your family (in the Gospel of Luke 14) when just seven chapters earlier, who’d he tell us to love? Do you remember? Luke 6:32:

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

Skip down to v. 35:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great...

So, how can Jesus tell his disciples to love their enemies in chapter 7 and to hate their family in chapter 14? Well, that apparent contradiction should already give you a clue that Jesus doesn’t mean this literally. It would be a contradiction for him to say “love your enemies, but hate your family.” However, we also know that one of Jesus’ favorite methods of teaching is what scholars call hyperbole, which would be to exaggerate something, to put something in a shocking way in order (number 1) to make a point, but also (number 2) for you to remember it. It’s a memorable saying. Like, “Did you hear what that guy said? He said, ‘If you don’t hate your father and mother and sister and brothers, you can’t be one of his students. You can’t be one of his disciples.’” Think about that. The shock value actually helps people remember it and then they’ll repeat it to others. They’ll say, “How could he say that, the Torah and the Commandments say ‘honor your mother and father’”? So there’s a shock value that’s involved. And teachers do this all the time. You exaggerate in order to make a point. Jesus’ most famous example of this is from Mark 9:45-47 when he says, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” That’s hyperbole. He doesn’t literally mean for us to cut our hands or cut our eyes out, but he’s exaggerating in order to make a point. And I think in this case he is exaggerating this as well. He doesn’t actually want his disciples to harbor ill will toward their father, or mother, or sister, or brother, or children, or wife, or themselves. He doesn’t want them to harm themselves (like, self-inflicted harm). What he is doing though is he is using the imagery of hate as a hyperbole in order to emphasize that you can prefer no one else to him. He is to be loved above all. And if you love your father, mother, sister, brothers, wife, children, or if you love your own life more than you love Jesus, you can’t be his disciple.

Now you might be thinking, “Ok, Dr. Pitre, how do I know that that’s what he means by ‘hate’? I mean, you just said hate means  ‘to hate’ (literally in Greek), so how are you sure it can be used that way?” Well, there are examples of a situation in which the word “hate”, in context, clearly has this meaning of preferential love. I’ll give you an example from Genesis 29:30-31. There’s the famous story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah. If you remember, Jacob gets tricked into marrying Leah (the oldest daughter, whom he wasn’t attracted to) before Rachel who he was in love with (who he worked seven years for). So when he marries Leah, his father-in-law, Laban, ends up giving him Rachel as well, after seven more years of work. And then, Genesis 29 says this: “so Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb.” In the Septuagint, that’s the same words for love and hate that I just mentioned, and that Jesus uses here. Miseo for hate, Agapao for love; but in context it’s clear that Jacob does not harbor ill will toward Leah. He’s not trying to hurt Leah or kill her or harm her. When it says that “Leah was hated”, what it means was that he loved Rachel more than Leah; he preferred Rachel to Leah, and so God blessed Leah because she was hated. That, I would suggest to you, is the meaning of what Jesus says when he says “unless you hate your father and mother, sister and brother, wife and children more than me, you can’t be my disciple.”

And if you have any doubts about that — this is a good principle — if you want to interpret the saying of Jesus in one gospel (if it’s a little obscure), you can always look at the version in a different gospel. Sometimes it’ll be slightly different, but the substance will be the same. The meaning will be the same. And if you look in Matthew 10:37, Jesus actually says this similar teaching, but more explicitly and a little less hyperbolically. In v.37:

He who loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me. He who loves son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

So what’s Jesus saying there? Very clearly, you can’t love any member of your family, no matter who they are, more than you love him. If you do, then you’re not worthy of being his disciple. So Matthew 10 helps us understand Luke 14. So we want to make sure that although we interpret Jesus’ words literally (in other words, look at their meaning in context; what do the words mean?), we don’t want to be literalistic when it comes to an example of hyperbole — just like we wouldn’t want a bunch of one-hand, one-eyed Christians walking around. So he’s using hyperbole to emphasize that they can’t love anyone more than him, otherwise you can’t be his disciple.

Now, before I go any further, I want you to understand, this doesn’t necessarily lower the shock value of what Jesus would be saying to his initial Jewish audience, because what he’s basically saying is, “You have to love me more than any other human being, including your wife, your children, or your parents.” Now let me ask you a question, in 1st Century Judaism, who could you justifiably love more than your parents, or your spouse and children? Or, let me put it this way, who would have the right to demand that you love them more than your parents? I mean, after all, the first commandment in the second tablet of the Torah (of the Ten Commandments) is “honor your father and mother”, literally, “glorify” your father and mother. What right does Jesus of Nazareth have to demand that you love and honor him more than your father and mother? Who can make that demand? Hmm, let’s see. In the Old Testament, who demands that you love them with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength? Who demands that kind of exclusive, and absolute, and supreme love? Well, it’s the Lord himself, God himself in Deuteronomy 6. This is the most famous passage in the Jewish Old Testament to this day, because it’s recited to this day, three times a day. The Shema: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

So notice, this is another perfect example of how, although Jesus doesn’t go around the streets of Galilee saying, “Hey everybody, I’m God.” He’s not explicit like that, he’s making implicit claims. He’s teaching in riddles and parables and hyperboles that implicitly demand that the only reasonable explanation for how he could ask for such love is that he isn’t just the Messiah, he isn’t just the king of Israel or a prophet, or the new Moses, but he’s the one God of Israel. He’s the God of the Shema come in person...

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