Let us pray: May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Let’s begin today with a fun little exercise, shall we? Take a minute, turn to your neighbor and tell them something you hate.
Now, let’s share a few of the things which we hate, shall we? What are some of the things you heard? Running, War, Skunks, the Packers, homework, rap music, spoilers…
If you Google the words “I hate,” you’ll receive about 28,300,000 hits. That’s twenty-eight million, three hundred thousand uses of the words “I hate” over the internet. Just to see if there was something which I, myself, hate, I Googled “I hate” and “Nachfolge,” the title of my weblog. According to my weblog, I hate knowing the end of a Harry Potter novel before I read it for myself, and speaking ill of a restaurant I used to frequent when I was in college.
Apparently I don’t hate enough to be one of Jesus’ disciples. Or maybe I don’t hate the correct things. It would be one thing if all I had to hate was the smell of bleach, celebrity gossip and the Texas Longhorns football team. But 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.” When you use the word hate with people that God says you’re supposed to love, it starts to hit you pretty hard – does this mean I’m less of a disciple than the guy who used eight fairly lengthy and profanity-laced posts to describe his hatred of his ex-girlfriend
We have choices about how we will hear God’s word, and today is no exception. We can take Jesus at His word, believing that hatred of family and friends and even lie itself is a requirement for discipleship, or we can assume that Jesus was just overstating His case to make a point. We might think it’s a matter of semantics, quibbling over the words of one long dead and gone – and yet here we are, 2,000 years after the fact, still debating the meaning and impact of those words. The sheer weight of history behind what Jesus said and the life Jesus lived tells me that understanding the meaning of these words is very, very important, so we return to the question. Jesus says we must hate family and even life itself in order to be His disciples. “Hate” is a word you can’t ignore, so: what does this mean?
The easiest way out of this mess might be to find something somewhere in the definition of the word Jesus used to wriggle out of the “hate” box. I’m going to assume that there aren’t many of you here who have studied first century Greek or Hebrew and take that mantle upon myself. The Greek word set down in our text is misei, which is related to our words miserable and misanthrope. It is, unfortunately, exactly as bad as it sounds: one must detest one’s family and life itself to be Jesus’ disciple. There’s very little wiggle room in the definition of the word “hate” recorded for us in Luke’s Gospel. The word “hate” is, unfortunately, still a word you can’t ignore.
So it seems that relying on overstatement and hyperbole won’t let us out of the box. Apparently we are supposed to take Jesus at his word – even when that word is offensive to our ears and attacks the very core of who we are. If we must hate, then the next logical question must be, “How, then, shall we hate? In what manner must I hate my father and mother? In what way must I hate my brothers and sisters, my spouse and my child? How must I hate my life in order to be your disciple, Jesus?” It’s painful to hear these words, isn’t it? It’s hard for me to say them, standing here and looking at my wife and my daughter. I don’t like the thought of hating these people I love. I would give my life for them: how am I supposed to hate them? And here we come to the point I believe Jesus is making, the reason he uses the word “hate,” so hard to ignore.
When we had our discussion earlier about the things we hate, what were your answers? Let’s go over them again: Running, War, Skunks, the Packers, homework, gossip, rap music, spoilers… Here we have a list of things we hate. They are things which inconvenience us. They are things which can harm us. They are those things in others that anger us, frustrate us, cause us to sever ties with people. I hate spoilers because I so enjoy getting to the end of a book or movie and being caught up in the story. I hate miles upon miles of traffic cones because it’s wasteful and inconvenient for me. I hate the Texas Longhorns because when it comes to football I’m an unforgiving jerk. The guy who hates his ex-girlfriend Cheyenne has plenty of reasons, which I won’t go into here. What are all of these things? They are the worst things about us. They are the things we’d give up in an instant if we could. We hate our burdens, our shortcomings, our annoyances, our fears and our disappointments. If Jesus told us that being His disciples meant hating these things, we’d sign up in a heartbeat. And that’s the problem: we spend our time trying to get saved from the things we hate, when we really need to get saved from the things we love. The things we idolize. The things we cherish. Dare I say it, the things we worship.
In Jesus’ time, your family was everything. Jesus talked a lot about caring for widows and orphans because widows and orphans literally had nothing: no one to care for them, no one to feed them give them homes, see to their needs. If you didn’t have a family, you didn’t have anything; and Jesus told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they needed to hate their families. As much as that is a shock to us today, it was even more shocking in Jesus’ time. You just don’t tell people these things unless you really mean it: “hate” is a word you can’t ignore.
But Jesus said it. He said that you can’t follow Him and be captive to a family’s love also. The Gospel of Luke tells us that a great crowd was following Jesus; how many of them might have just been along for the ride? How many of them might have just wanted to see a good show? How many of them might have been thinking about signing on with Jesus, if His teachings weren’t too crazy and He provided a miracle or two along the way? How many of them, in other words, came looking for an interesting experience, entertainment, one more in a series of teachers? In other words, how many of them came looking for the Son of God Almighty?
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis shows us the difference between curiosity and discipleship. Lewis wrote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely [human] and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, te Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
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.” I have a feeling that this word wasn’t intended for all his followers. It would be an easy thing to hate a father who drinks too much. It would be an easy thing to hate a mother who beats her children. It would be an easy thing to hate a spouse who despises us, children who neglect us, brothers and sisters who insult and injure us. Jesus isn’t speaking to those situations – there is no need. As Savior, Jesus came to rescue the lost and forsaken, those who struggle with abusive parents, neglectful children, dysfunctional families. But Jesus was Savior to all of us, come to save us from all the things which hold us captive, both good and bad. It is much harder to be saved from a good marriage, a faithful spouse, respectful children: but Jesus came to save us from these things as well. Sometimes Jesus had to use strong words to shock us out of our comfort zones and stop us ignoring Him, and “hate” is a word you can’t ignore.
Our reading from Deuteronomy today comes from the time just before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River into the promised land, after 40 years of nomadic wandering in the Sinai peninsula and the transJordan desert. Moses, their great leader all of those years, would soon die, and the people would be led by Joshua into a new life. God had prepared the people of Israel for this new life by giving them the Law, which would fill their lives with blessings if they followed it. We remember the Law most commonly in what? The Ten Commandments. Let’s go through them backwards, shall we? 10 & 9: You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. 8: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 7: You shall not steal. 6: You shall not commit adultery. 5: You shall not kill. 4: Honor your father and mother. That concludes the second table – the commandments dealing with neighbors. Now, the first table. 3: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. 2: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. 1: I am the Lord your God – you will have no other gods before me. In all of these laws, God promises life: not as a reward for good behavior, but life as a natural consequence of trusting God and obeying God’s commandments. “I set before you life and death, blessings and curses.” God says; “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Beginning with the first commandment, God shows us what it means to live – and with whom that life must begin.
Following Jesus means following only Jesus. We cannot follow Jesus and all the good things in our lives: there can be no split allegiances. The call to hatred, if you will, is a call to understand that Christ alone can save, and to turn away from anything that would take His place – even if those things are family or life itself. The only true disciple is the one for whom there is no other refuge, the one to whom all things have died and only Christ alone remains. Jesus used the word “hate” because it was the only word that would get the attention of those of us who live comfortably and think of Jesus as a good teacher, a friend to be ignored when He gets in the way of those things we love. Jesus will not be ignored, and so He used the word “hate,” because “hate” is a word you can’t ignore.
Is there good news in all of this? Without a doubt, but it comes from only one source: Jesus Himself. As God’s Son, Jesus hated many things, but He hated death most of all. So Jesus overcame death with resurrection – and thus redeemed life for all of us. Jesus will not rest so long as things stand between Himself and you, the people He loves. Follow Him and He will put to death all your false idols and all your cherished dreams, all the things Jesus calls you to hate. That is the cost of discipleship. But resurrection is the gain of discipleship, the gift which comes swift on the heels of the cost. In dying in Christ, we are raised to new life as well, to look upon that which we love through the eyes of Christ, to see family, friends and even life itself as God intended. The call to discipleship is a call to hate that which stands before Christ and a call to love all that comes after resurrection in His name.
Jesus was right: we cannot be His disciples on our own – we need His saving grace. We cannot love as we ought – neither can we hate as we ought. Realizing this, because Jesus uses words like “hate” which we cannot ignore, we say to Him, “Lord, I cannot. I cannot hate those I love. I cannot put you first. I cannot be your disciple on my own. But I believe, Lord. I believe that following you is life. I cannot follow, yet I believe: help my unbelief, and help me follow.” And Jesus answers, “I have redeemed you through baptism, and I will redeem you from those things you love and those things you hate - I will give you life abundant and everlasting, now and in the kingdom to come.” Amen, Lord: let it be so. Amen.
 Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity © 1952, C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. HarperCollins, pub. p. 52.