Does Jesus Ask You to Hate Your Parents?

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me…” This is a hard saying from Jesus, especially in its alternative form found in Luke’s gospel: “if anyone comes to me without hating his father or mother…” Would Jesus really ask us to hate our parents, even when the fourth commandment expressly requires us to love and honor them? If we accept that Jesus cannot, in principle, contradict God (because that would be contradicting himself), and that he actually came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law, as he says elsewhere, then how are we to make any sense of this verse? We can, for example, say that Jesus is using—as he often does—Semitic hyperbole to prove his point. But that explanation does not appear to me, in and of itself, sufficient. It seems like we are brushing aside the difficulty as a matter of mere semantics.
Allow me to suggest a different reading of this verse, one that takes into account a very common theme found throughout the Bible. One of the very first things we read in the very first book of the Bible is: “for this reason, a man leaves father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.” At the beginning of the Bible we find marriage. The book of Revelation ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb. At the end of the Bible we find marriage. In between we find marriage constantly popping up. Read through the prophets and you will be struck by the repeated use of marital imagery. The Song of Songs was originally a marriage song. St. Paul reminds us that marriage is an image of the mystery of Christ’s love for His Church. In Scripture, marriage is constantly used as a sign of God’s relationship with His people.
With this in mind, could we not re-read the abovementioned verse in light of marriage? God is calling each one of us to a spousal relationship with Him. Should not the words of Genesis, which refer to the spousal relationship of a man and a woman, also apply to our relationship with Him? Should we not “leave our father and mother” and cling to God? Imagine a man who says he wants to marry a woman, but is not willing to leave his parents behind. Wouldn’t that make him “unworthy” of his bride? If he does not love his bride more than his parents (if we indulge in some hyperbolic language, if he does not “hate” them for her sake) how could that marriage ever succeed?
The Lord is calling all of us to an intimate, personal relationship with Him, one that requires us to “leave the nest,” as it were. If one is incapable of doing so, then one is incapable of having such a relationship. I think that reading this verse with the idea of marriage in the background illumines it in a way other interpretations have failed to do. It does not exclude the other interpretations you have probably heard, but it gives them and even deeper meaning. So no, you should not hate your parents, nor is Jesus asking you to. He only asks you to be willing to do for Him what you are probably already willing to do for your (current or future) spouse.

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