Jesus confuses me sometimes. At times in the Gospels He tells us to love our enemies and then here in today’s Gospel he tells us to hate our loved ones and even ourselves (which doesn’t seem to bode well for love your neighbor as yourself). What’s the deal, Jesus?
The deal is two things: how do we define hate and the larger picture is what Jesus is saying about discipleship.
Concerning hate, we should be careful reading it as we commonly use it. There are certainly times hate means loathe, abhor, etc, but those are instances like “God hates sin.” However, in today’s Gospel Christ implicitly sets hate in contrast with love for Him. This distinction is common in Scripture. When Scripture presents hate and love in a compare and contrast relationship we should hear preference and priority, not revilement. Thus, Jesus is not commanding us to despise our family, but to love Jesus the most.
We should not assume that this clarification in language somehow lessens the force of this passage. This is still a heavy passage on discipleship. Christ clearly tells us that discipleship is an all or nothing affair. We need to be all-in or we will be a laughing stock or worse a defeated King whose loss impacted countless others because we became a discredit to the Gospel. With discipleship, when it comes time to ante, you have two calls, all-in or fold.
Practically what does this mean? Among others, I think Christ is trying to tell us that the response to discipleship requires discernment and a penetrating prayer life that can reveal to us our attachments that are going to threaten our discipleship. Without seeing them we become the ill-equipped builder or the outnumbered king, but when we know them and recognize them, they become a part of the cross we bear. A cross that we share with the Lord. This is healthy for Ignatius and Hosanna were God’s children before they were mine and Bess’ truest lover is always Christ before me. To love Christ before all else prevents me from usurping his place in the lives of those I love.