“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.”
Jesus of Nazareth
Yesterday, I shared here one of my Daily Reflections. It dealt with a particularly troublesome passage in the Gospel of Luke. Today, I’ll share my second reflection on this text.
Yesterday, I began considering Luke 14:26 with its troubling instruction about hating our family members. I suggested that we need to be wise interpreters of this verse, recognizing that Jesus is using the rhetorical form known as hyperbole (exaggeration). Jesus does not want us to hate our closest relatives by stirring up bad feelings for them or treating them poorly. But he does want us to be shaken up, so that we might see in new ways what it means to be his disciples, and how this leads to a new way of relating to all people, including our family members.
In fact, one prevalent barrier to Christian discipleship is too much attachment to family, especially as defined by cultural, traditional, and personal values. I think, for example, of a friend of mine whose mainstream Protestant parents did not approve of his call to pastoral ministry. They used all the tools at their disposal, including financial leverage and shame, to get him to pursue a more profitable career as a doctor or a lawyer. In the end, my friend found the courage to be faithful to Christ in spite of his parents’ disapproval. In a sense, he had to “hate” his parents in order to be an obedient disciple of Jesus.
During my parish ministry, I watched good church-going parents use the “priority of family time” rationale to get in the way of their teenagers’ growth as disciples of Jesus. Family time would preclude the regular involvement of their kids in Bible study groups. Family vacations kept their teenagers from being part of life-changing mission trips. In some cases, the parents who prized family so much were the ones who later blamed the church when their children wandered away from the Lord in college.
Now I realize that there are times when parents rightly choose to have their children involved in family rather than church events. But, as a parent, I know how easy it is to choose what feels best for me without considering what’s best for my kids and their discipleship. After all, I “hate” it when they’re not around for family events and trips. There are no simple answers here. I want to encourage parents—and all of us—to take a fresh look at our family relationships in light of our primary commitment to Christ.
In fact, faithful parents can often help their children grow in their discipleship, rather than impede it. If we model commitment to Christ in our lives, our children will be encouraged to imitate our example. The same is true for other adults who influence young people with whom they have relationship. No matter what we say, our actions will speak loudly and clearly of what authentic discipleship is all about.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of adults whose example of faithfulness to Christ has influenced you? Are there people in your life who are being influenced by your discipleship? Do you ever find a tension between your discipleship and your family relationships?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I do want to follow you faithfully, to seek you first and foremost in my life. Yet, there are many times when I feel torn. Sometimes I’m not sure how best to follow you. Other times, I know what discipleship requires, but I’m just not sure I want to do it. So, help me, I pray, to know how best to follow you and to choose the path of discipleship above all.
Help me also, Lord, as I seek to set an example of faithfulness for my children. May I live in such a way that they are encouraged to seek you above all in life. May they know that when I put you first, I am better able to love them in a way that honors you and helps them grow as your disciples. Amen.