Hating One’s Parents

‘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’ (Luke 14:26)

This is a hard saying in more senses than one: it is hard to accept and it is hard to reconcile it with the general teaching of Jesus.

The attitude which it seems to recommend goes against the grain of nature, and it also goes against the law of love to one’s neighbour which Jesus emphasised and radicalised.

If the meaning of `neighbour’ must be extended so as to include one’s enemy, it must not be restricted so as to exclude one’s nearest and dearest.

What does it mean, then? It means that, just as property can come between us and the kingdom of God, so can family ties.

The interests of God’s kingdom must be paramount with the followers of Jesus, and everything else must take second place to them, even family ties.

We tend to agree that there is something sordid about the attitude which gives priority to money-making over the nobler and more humane issues of life. But a proper care for one’s family is one of those nobler and more humane issues.

Jesus himself censured those theologians who argued that people who had vowed to give God a sum of money which they later discovered could have been used to help their parents in need were not free to divert the money from the religious purposes to which it had been vowed in order to meet a parental need.

This, he said, was a violation of the commandment to honour one’s father and mother (Mark 7:9-13).

Nevertheless, a man or woman might be so bound up by family ties as to have no time or interest for matters of even greater moment, and there could be no matter of greater moment than the kingdom of God.

The husband and father was normally the head of the household, and he might look on his family as an extension of his own personality to the point where love for his family was little more than an extended form of self-love.

Jesus strongly deprecated such an inward-looking attitude and used the strongest terms to express his disapproval of it.

If `hating’ one’s relatives is felt to be a shocking idea, it was meant to be shocking, to shock the hearers into a sense of the imperious demands of the kingdom of God. We know that in biblical idiom to hate will mean to like less.

When, for instance, regulations are laid down in the Old Testament law for a man who has two wives, `one beloved and the other hated’ (Deut. 21:15), it’s not necessary to suppose that he completely hates the latter wife; all that require be meant is that he loves her but the opposite and must be prevented from showing favouritism to the other’s son once he allocates his property among his heirs.

The RSV indicates that positive hatred is not intended by speaking of the one wife as `the loved’ and the other as `the disliked’, but the Hebrew word used is that that often means that `hated’, and it is so rendered in the AV.

That hating during this spoken language of Jesus Christ means that amorous less is shown by the parallel spoken language in Matthew 10:37: `He World Health Organization loves father or mother quite ME isn’t worthy of ME; and he World Health Organization loves son or female offspring quite ME isn’t merit me.’

In Matthew’s Gospel these words are followed by the saying about taking up the cross and following Jesus: the implication of this sequence is that giving one’s family second place to the kingdom of God is one way of taking up the cross.

We can perhaps understand more easily the action of those who choose a celibate life to devote themselves more unreservedly to the service of God, those who, as Jesus said on another occasion, `have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19:12;).

But the saying with which we are at present concerned refers to those who are already married and have children, not to speak of dependent parents.

That Jesus’s followers included some who had dependents like these and had left them to follow him is plain from his own words: `There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or kids or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, … who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…. and within the age to come back eternal life’ (Mark 10:29-30).

Might this not involve the abandonment of natural responsibilities? Who, for example, looked after Peter’s family when he took to the road as a disciple of Jesus? We are not told.

Clearly his wife survived the experience, and her affections apparently survived it also, for twenty-five years later he was accustomed to take her along with him on his missionary journeys (1 Cor. 9:5).

Later in the New Testament period, when family life was acknowledged as the norm for Christians, it is laid down that, `If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his circle of relatives, he has unacknowledged the religion ANd is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Tim. 5:8).

There is no evidence in the Gospels that this conflicts with the teaching of Jesus. But this needed no emphasising from him: it is natural for men and women to make what provision they can for their nearest and dearest. Jesus’s emphasis lay rather on the necessity of treating the kingdom of God as nearer and dearer still.

Because of the natural resistance on the part of his hearers to accepting this necessity with literal celibate life to devote themselves more unreservedly to the service of God, those who, as Jesus said on another occasion, `have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19:12; see p. 63).

But the saying with which we are at present concerned refers to those who are already married and have children, not to speak of dependent parents.

That Jesus’s followers included some who had dependents like these and had left them to follow him is plain from his own words: `There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, … who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…. and in the age to come eternal life’ (Mark 10:29-30).

Might this not involve the abandonment of natural responsibilities? Who, for example, looked after Peter’s family when he took to the road as a disciple of Jesus? We are not told.

Clearly his wife survived the experience, and her affections apparently survived it also, for twenty-five years later he was accustomed to take her along with him on his missionary journeys (1 Cor. 9:5).

Later in the New Testament period, when family life was acknowledged as the norm for Christians, it is laid down that, `If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Tim. 5:8).

There is no evidence in the Gospels that this conflicts with the teaching of Jesus. But this needed no emphasising from him: it is natural for men and women to make what provision they can for their nearest and dearest.

Jesus’s emphasis lay rather on the necessity of treating the kingdom of God as nearer and dearer still. Because of the natural resistance on the part of his hearers to accepting this necessity with literal seriousness, he insisted on it in the most arresting and challenging language at his command.

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