I have often heard it said that Luke 14:26-27, about needing to “hate” your family if you are truly to love Jesus, is tough but clear. And by this they mean: it is clear in that it means what it says. This post argues against that notion, both on the basis of reading the passage more broadly and of relying on some of the major, scholarly commentaries on Luke—by Joel B. Green and Darrell Bock.1
I believe that their presentation / exegesis disproves the common perspective of “clarity” and defeats the common interpretation of this passage. By reading Luke 13 – 15 as a unit and focusing our reading on the principal themes the fullest, best meaning of Luke 14:26-27 becomes clear.
Let’s begin with Chapter 13.
Lk 13:1-5 is the reformulation of right and wrong in terms of certain recent events and the overarching need to repent, 13:6-9 addresses the “second chance” that is now being offered to the Judean people via Jesus (and the consequence of not repenting), 13:10-17 has Jesus revolutionizing the Sabbath (and, by extension, all that is most holy and most “God’s”), 13:18-33 portrays Jesus reconfiguring the current notion of what is “most God’s” according to the notion of the kingdom of God, with accompanying indications of the difficulty (particularly for those listening!) to access it, and the likelihood that listeners will mistake themselves for insiders when they are not. 13:34-35 contains Jesus’ recapitulation of his sadness and frustration that Jerusalem (i.e., Israel) continues to reject God.2
Then, in Lk 14:1, note how we begin with a meal and how in Lk 15:2 we have another meal reference. These two references “book end” the content of Lk 14. Note also how, in Lk 14:2-6 Jesus again heals on the sabbath, again a reference to the re-ordering or revolutionizing of what is “God’s” that he is effecting. The parable of Lk 14:7-11 both stands on its own and acts to prepare for the parable of verses 12-24.
In effect, the first parable’s emphasis on humility in order to avoid disgrace (or better, dishonor, in the sense that 1st century Palestine is an “honour & shame” society) is exploded by the second parable’s indication that those who were invited (v. 17) refused to come for various, flimsy reasons (vv. 18-20). Then the poor and lame of the town are invited (v. 21), and finally those from farther off are brought in (v. 23).
Following Joel B. Green, these three groups represent, in order, 1) the majority of Israel, including the religious elite and those acting in accordance with the law, 2) those failing to uphold the law (sinners) or marginalized by the law (those who are poor, crippled, blind, and lame), and finally 3) those who are foreign to Israel (an oblique reference to Gentiles).
It is only after understanding the above trajectory that I believe that we are in a position to interpret Lk 14:25-27 properly.
Specifically, the crowds represent mostly those in group #1 (or if present, they would be shunning any group #2’s among them). Yet in the context of Jesus’ work to revolutionize and re-order the things of God (as demonstrated by the sabbath healings), being part of the banquet in the second parable means rejecting that which is seemingly most Israelite (i.e., to reject “rejecting”—or to stop ignoring—the prophets and particularly Jesus for the sake of the Judean traditions, as Lk 13:34-35).
In other words, you must even act as to “hate” that which is most yours: rejecting your culture, traditions, and self-identification via such (which is transmitted through and embodied most deeply in one’s family) and to accept the shame / dishonour that will result in order that you may not act as those in group #1 did in the second parable!
Thus in 14:28-32 there is a call to understanding (and so counting) the cost of acting in this way, with the call to “give up all that you possess” in v. 33. Finally, the meal table analogy (where sharing a meal in 1st century Palestine symbolizes “being family” together) is completed with the reference to salt (vv. 34-5): the savoryness of the meal is dependent on the salt being as it should be.
In my view, the implication is that those coming to feast are both invitees and, through the distinctiveness of their commitment and engagement with God, contributors to that meal.3
Finally, I think that the typical misreading of Luke 14:26-27 is at the heart of many situations where people are disregarded, marginalized, and sorely mistreated for the sake of preserving a particular understanding of who God is / what it means to be Christian.
Here are just a few examples of this misunderstanding (and its implications):
More personally, the claims of Christians who have been rejected, stigmatized, and labelled as “subverter” by people who claim to love them, are staggering. And yet almost always those who reject, stigmatize, and label are characterized by a perfect precis of Luke 14:26-27. As one person mentioned, “It’s not that my parents don’t love me, it’s that they love church more.”
Once this attitude can be debunked as anti-Christian so too can the characterization of churches that accept or promote this attitude be re-characterized as “broken churches,” such that any conclusions (about churches being inherently problematic and thus church attendance being ultimately harmful) can be recast as mischaracterizations / misformulations, based on misinformation.