Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
I wonder how the “large crowds” traveling with Jesus reacted when they heard these words? Did they turn to one another and ask, “Did he say hate? I thought we were supposed to love one another.” I wonder if some heard these words and quit following Jesus?
The life to which Jesus calls disciples is a radical reversal of values of the world. Rather than hate our enemies we are called to love. Rather than hoard up treasures for ourselves we are called to be generous and share with others. Rather than ‘look out for number one’ we are called to care for the least of these among us. Discipleship is a call to forgive relentlessly, love fiercely, and live humbly, just about the exact opposite of what it takes to get ahead in life.
Jesus knew such a life was only possible when our lives are overwhelmed by the love of God. Over and again, Jesus taught that God must be the first priority in our lives. In another story in Luke where Jesus calls us to hate, he says that in order to love one master we must “hate” the other, “for no one can serve two masters.” In other words, hate doesn’t mean to detest someone else. It means to choose decisively. There is no straddling the fence. Either God is first in our lives or God is last.
In this case Jesus is telling the crowds that serving God is even more important than serving family, or even our own selves. We do not have to reject family, or detest them, but we are called to make the love of God our highest priority.
I wonder how the large crowds following Jesus today react to this message. Most people I know would say family is their highest priority. That’s what they say anyway. But is our family really the most important thing in our lives when we shush our kids because the game is on? Or we avoid our aging parents because we just can’t listen to the same story one more time?
Discipleship is not easy. It calls for a reordering of priorities. When we do put God first, however, we are better able to put everything else in their proper order. It may not always be easy, but when God takes first place in our lives our other relationships prosper, the world gets better, and life becomes even more full. That is the joy of discipleship.