Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. ” Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
—Luke 14:25-33, NIV
Today’s passage in Luke puzzles a lot of people. Jesus, who has such a wonderful reputation for recommending that we love everybody, including even our enemies, suddenly tells us that we cannot be His disciples unless we hate our own families!
The answer to this is that we are dealing with an ancient usage that doesn’t transfer to English very well. The contrast between our love for Jesus and our love for our natural families is exaggerated in order to drive the point home… in watching a child neglect her peas in favor of ice cream, we might say that she loved the ice cream and hated the peas. In fact she’s really quite fond of peas, but when ice cream is around there’s no contest. This usage of the word ‘hate’ in contrasts was quite common in that day.
Similarly, when Jesus says we must give up all our possessions in order to follow Him, He doesn’t mean that we must all hold a giant yard sale and live as mendicants on the streets. If that were the case, there would be precious few Christians indeed!
Joseph of Arimathea is described in John’s gospel as a disciple of Jesus, yet he was a wealthy man who did not give up his possessions. We know, for instance, that he owned a very nice cemetery plot. However, when all of a sudden Jesus was crucified and the body had to be taken down from the cross and buried before sundown and the onset of the Sabbath, Joseph didn’t hesitate for a moment. He volunteered the cemetery plot for the burial; otherwise Jesus’ body would have been thrown in the common grave for criminals. This is what Jesus meant. Joseph didn’t stop to think about his tax write-off for donating the plot or where to put the person for whom the cemetery plot was originally intended; he didn’t have time for that. For him, Jesus took precedence over all those other considerations, the choice was clear, so he acted.
Sometimes when you have to choose between two things, you waver and hesitate: shall our siding be vinyl or aluminum? Should we heat with oil or gas? But in other cases, the choice is clear, and the decision is made without hesitation. You aren’t plagued with indecision about leaving work to tend to your child who suddenly falls very ill. Learn from your dog: drop a raw hamburger and his favorite toy on the floor in front of him, and see if he has any difficulty deciding what to do! Are your priorities that clear to you? Are spiritual things as important to you as food is to your dog? Do you react to spiritual things the way your dog reacts to the sound of the can opener?
There is a hymn entitled Were You There When They Crucified My Lord which is very lovely and sentimental. But suppose you had been there. If it had been you who had owned the cemetery plot instead of Joseph, would you have acted as quickly? Would you have needed time to think? Would Jesus’ body have gone into the common grave while you were wracked with indecision?