It seems there are many who seek out "reasons to disbelieve," who are the skeptical response to Christianity's apologists. In fact, they may celebrate how the picture I use to the left, if they are unfamiliar with the passage already, has given them yet another reason to throw the (scriptural) baby out with the bath water. The ones who do this may seem to have every reason to disbelieve...
"I can't believe because there's no proof."
That's a good question. But, of course, it's only a good question if what we're already learning is true. If it's not, well...
We have to ask ourselves, when confronted with pictures like the one above, if Jesus really called people to hate someone else. If we just look at the picture, we see two passages from the same book, seemingly that contradict each other, and therefore have to make conclusions like "Jesus sent conflicting messages" or "Jesus forgot what he said from one moment to the next" or even "sometimes it's okay to hate." But all of these conclusions lack the one vital component that effectively answers any rebuttal: CONTEXT.
The short answer to this blog post is "no." If that's a sufficient answer for you, no need to read further. However, if you're tempted to ask, "why should I believe your 'no' over someone else's 'yes'?" then please keep reading.
If Luke 14:26 is problematic for you, it may be helpful to examine the whole of Jesus' ministry before coming to a decision. You might note Jesus calling for honoring the family (agreement w/OT law, 10 Commandments [Ex. 20]) in Mt. 5:22, 31, 15:5-9, 19:19, or possible devaluing family in Mt. 10:36-37, 12:47-50, 13:57, etc. There are more examples if we also look to Mark, Luke, & John's gospels. For now, we'll stick with Matthew.
Next, let's look at the text in context:
Prior to this statement of Jesus, He told the people two stories (called parables) about dinner guests, drawing up the differences between those who were appreciative for the dinner yet lacking the means to repay and those who had means to repay but were ultimately ungrateful.
Starting in verse 25 Jesus begins to tell them (and us) the cost of being His follower. The idea is not that we must hate others to follow Him but that we must carry our cross, i.e. suffer or sacrifice for His sake, which He here describes as counting the cost. The examples of the tower builder and king at war are metaphors, analogies, for how they/we must first consider what following Jesus means before we commit to the task. Jesus says in Lk. 6:62:
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
The instruction is not to hate but is hyperbole for how great our love/commitment to Jesus should be in relation to our love/commitment to our families and friends. An article from a Jewish mindset might shed even more light on our understanding.
Do You & I Have The Ears To Hear?
This is not an idea that Jesus just happened upon once or twice. The importance of the kingdom of God was central to His message and formed the foundation for everything Jesus said or did. Jesus didn't come to raise social awareness of the poor or create a market for miracles or even design a new & improved religion. He came to usher in the kingdom of God. The message was worth dying for.
So when He sent out His disciples, Jesus gave them sobering warnings in Matthew 10 (to the right). The cost of following Him was suffering and betrayal, but the rewards were infinitely greater. The very Spirit of God would guide them, and will guide us, if if they (or we) choose to take up this cross of association. We will be acknowledged before God as faithful. And we will find life despite the sacrifice of our own.
Jesus is not threatening us with pain, or joyously bringing us to suffering. But neither is He promising that being a disciple of His is without cost. He gives us His peace (Jn. 14:27) but those who walk in the way of Jesus will not always have peace on this earth. Sin is an effortless path to walk, but the way of God is a rejection of self and sin in favor of walking with God. When we choose to walk the path of a disciple, a path of sacrifice and the pursuit of holiness, those closest to us will turn against us. They may feel judged, or even hated, despite how you reassure them. Light exposes the darkness.
Jesus calls us to be disciples. Do we dare?
The point is, the references are ample for Jesus ascribing honor to family and sparse for those times when He seems to devalue family. The seeming difference is rendered moot by context.
Luke 14:25-35 (in context)
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
If the thoughts of some friend or family member can pull you away from following Jesus, are you following Jesus... or someone else?
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Matthew 10:16-39 (applicable portions)
* See Micah 7:6 , believed to be referring to the coming messianic age