Shocking Things Jesus Said: Are We Supposed to Hate Our Families to Be Christ’s Disciples?
“If anyone 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).
One of the most challenging statements ever made by Jesus is this call to forsake all worldly things and follow him. What are we to make of this? Is Jesus speaking hyperbolically, speaking “over the top” for emphasis, or does he truly mean what he says?
Whenever you encounter a difficult passage like Luke 14:26, the first thing to do is to understand the context of the passage. The setting of Luke 14 is the home of a Pharisee who is hosting a dinner party for on the Sabbath. Pharisees were respected community leaders in first-century Israel who were known for their strict adherence to the Law of Moses and the other ceremonial laws of Judaism. By their piousness, they believed themselves to be righteous before God.
Jesus Dines with the Pharisees
Jesus had been placed on the guest list because these men were eager to observe him; they hoped to discredit him as an outsider, a commoner, an untrained pretender. At this dinner, Jesus took the opportunity to confront them with their hypocrisy.
Houses in first-century Israel were open-air dwellings, and an important dinner party in town would have drawn the attention of the local celebrity watchers. They would gather and observe events like this, and the host was proud to show them his important friends. One of those who gathered to watch was a man with a condition called dropsy.
In this setting then, as we read in Luke 14:3, Jesus asks the dinner guests, pious legal experts all, if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Such a simple question was surprising from Jesus, who by now had developed a reputation as a learned teacher, and the question seems to stun the guests into momentary silence. Jesus heals the man with dropsy right before their eyes and sends him away (v. 4). Pressing the issue further, Jesus then asks them if they would not immediately rescue their son or ox if either accidentally fell into a well on the Sabbath. Again, they have no answer.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
During this uneasy silence, the guests begin to select their places around the dinner table. As they do, Jesus notices that each one tries to choose a place of honor near the host. He then gives them the following counsel:
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8–11)
Having confronted the Pharisees on their man-made expansion of God’s Sabbath ordinance, Jesus turns now to confront their sinful pride. To this gathering of the outwardly pious and humble, but inwardly self-righteous and selfish, Jesus says the truly righteous invite those in need—those who are poor, crippled, lame, and blind (v. 13). They are the ones, he says, who will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (v. 14). Upon hearing this, one of the Pharisees exclaims, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God.” His statement serves to prove Jesus’ point: all these men believe themselves to be righteous enough in their piety to enter the kingdom of God.
The Parable of the Great Banquet
Jesus then tells a parable about a man who prepares a great banquet and the response of the guests who have been invited (Luke 14:12-24). When the guests are told that all is ready, each one comes up with a reason to be excused. The host is rightly angered and sends his servant to invite those who are poor, crippled, blind, or lame (v. 21). But at such a great banquet there is still room for more, so he sends his servant to invite folk from far and wide so his house will be filled. And then he says, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (v. 24).
The Pharisees understand what Jesus is telling them—that they are the invited guests of the story, and the banquet is God’s great banquet. They are too important, too prideful, too self-righteous, and need not bother to attend. They are decidedly disinvited, and God chooses the lowly to take their place. God rejects the proud and instead welcomes the lowly, the needy, the lame and blind.
In Luke 14:26, Jesus sets the bar of true righteousness farther out of reach by declaring that a person must “hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” to be Jesus’ disciple.
Christ Was the One Who Perfectly Kept These Conditions
The truth is that we cannot keep these conditions laid out by Christ, but he did. Jesus counted the cost just as the man building the tower and the king going into war did in Luke 14:28-32. He forsook all his family and possessions. He picked up his cross and gave his life so that we could be righteous in him. Because Jesus kept the conditions of true righteousness for us, we can freely love our friends and family—and even our enemies.
Instead of taking the best seat at the table, Jesus allowed himself to be hung on a cross outside the city in a place of utter shame and repulsion. He did this because of his love for the world. Yet, death and the grave could not hold him, and he has a feast prepared for all who trust in him for salvation.
We can face death with confidence, when the time comes, because our Savior is waiting for us to dine with him in glory forevermore.