Sunday, August 28, 2022

Holy Hating

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Luke 14:25-33, the gospel reading for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost. Your comments are welcomed.

The scandal of this text is its extreme language, which seems contrary to “family values” as well as to biblical injunctions to love and to honor one’s spouse or one’s parents. More importantly, the words “hate your family/self” seems to mitigate against the whole grain of the gospel and to justify extremism in many conceivably ugly forms. The challenge for the exegete is to let this text speak with all of its extremities, yet to hear it within the flow and purpose of the gospel itself.

25 Συνεπορεύοντο δὲ αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί, καὶ στραφεὶς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, 
Yet many crowds were going together with him, and having turned around, he said to them,
Συνεπορεύοντο: IMI 3p, συμπορεύομαι, 1) to go or journey together  2) to come together, to assemble
στραφεὶς: APPart nsm, στρέφω, 1) to turn, turn around  2) to turn one's self (i.e. to turn the back to one  2a) of one who no longer cares for another)  2b) metaph. to turn one's self from one's course of conduct, i.e.  to change one's mind 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. The term “many crowds,” going together after Jesus sets the tone for what follows. One would think being followed by many crowds might be a sign of "success," but after this observation Jesus will subvert our tendency to confuse success with popularity. 

26 Εἴ τις ἔρχεται πρός με καὶ οὐ μισεῖ τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τὰς ἀδελφάς, ἔτι τε καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἑαυτοῦ, οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes even his soul, he is not able to be my disciple.
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
μισεῖ: PAI 3s, μισέω, 1) to hate, pursue with hatred, detest
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, 2) to be able to do something  
εἶναί: PAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. See the remarks below on ‘hate,’ where I show all of the uses in Luke's gospel of μισέω. I particularly am drawn to Luke 16:13, where, in order to love one master, one must "hate" the other, because no one can serve two masters. Surely in the matter of choosing to follow one "master" over another, there is no need to personally hate one in order to love the other. But - and this would be especially true if the masters themselves are competitors in some way - it may be true that one would have to make a decisive choice and could not straddle the fence, in order to serve that master well. While the whole concept of choosing a master is alien to my way of thinking, I do think the language of c.16 can help us to hear dimensions of the word "hate" that do not necessarily involve despising a person's guts.  
2. It is important to note that Jesus speaks of hating ‘one’s own soul’ and not just one’s family. Whatever one makes of the word ‘hate,’ the point of the list seems to be a contrast between that which one naturally holds dear and the cost of being a disciple.
3. BONUS ILLUSTRATION: I had a conversation with a friend in El Salvador once, when he recounted for me a night when his small village was under bombardment during their war. He had refused to fight, but had joined the Red Cross, part of which was his commitment to answer whenever the siren would sound. During the bombardment, the siren sounded and he described how difficult it was to force his way out of the house, with his spouse and children holding on, begging him not to go, but to stay there with him instead. He did not "hate" them in the angry sense, but he did have to make a choice against the ones whom he loved the most. That's how I hear this word.
4. Here and in v.27 I use the words “is not able” instead of “cannot,” because “cannot” sounds too much like “may not,” as if Jesus is putting the barrier up, prohibiting someone to be a disciple. “Is not able” implies that it is the person’s own inability to let go of one path that disables her/him from being able to follow another. It speaks to the conditions for the possibility - like “you won’t let yourself” as opposed to “I won’t let you.”

27 ὅστις οὐ βαστάζει τὸν σταυρὸν ἑαυτοῦ καὶ ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
Whoever is not bearing one’s cross and coming after me is not able to be my disciple.
βαστάζει: PAI 3s, βαστάζω, 1) to take up with the hands  2) to take up in order to carry or bear,
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, 2) to be able to do something  
εἶναί: PAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. It is a little curious to me that this verse has become a catchphrase and does not seem to cause offense like the previous verse. But, in what way is it any less difficult or daunting? And, is it any different, really? One way of thinking about bearing a cross is to consider the cost of it, one has to let go of "father and mother and spouse and children and brothers and sisters, yes even one's own soul" because that's what dying does. It deprives us of them and them of us. 
2. Preachers seem to face an interpretive choice here. We often hear the encouragement to "take up our cross," but it is always used metaphorically, not literally. If it is Jesus' intent for us to hear that call metaphorically, then we might rightly assume that we are to hear the call to "hate" metaphorically. The challenge is that within Jesus' story the cross is a quite literal location of suffering and death. So, some of us (I, for instance) often wonder if our tendency to hear the bearing of a cross as a metaphor is an attempt to domesticate it and make it less dramatic. 
3. Within the story, “bearing a cross” does not yet have the impacted meaning of Jesus’ own death on the cross, which has not yet happened. However, by the time Luke’s story is written, Jesus’ death on the cross was well-known to his audience. Hence, we tend to read that death as being what gives this call its fullest meaning.  

28 τίς γὰρ ἐξ ὑμῶν θέλων πύργον οἰκοδομῆσαι οὐχὶ πρῶτον καθίσας ψηφίζει τὴν δαπάνην, εἰ ἔχει εἰς ἀπαρτισμόν; 
For who among you who wishes to build a tower does not first having sat down calculate the expense, whether he has into completion?
θέλων: PAPart nsm, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
οἰκοδομῆσαι: AAInf, οἰκοδομέω, 1) to build a house, erect a building
καθίσας: AAPart nsm, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  1a) to set, appoint, to confer a kingdom on one
ψηφίζει: PAI 3s, ψηφίζω, 1) to count with pebbles, to compute, calculate, reckon  
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 
1. In a refined translation, one would supply a direct object to “has” such as “whether he has enough for completion?”
2. This is a rather bald embrace of what Martin Heidegger once called “calculative thinking,” which is all about factoring the means to the end.
3. This is the only use of ἀπαρτισμόν (completion) in the Scriptures acc. to
4. With the introduction of this line of thought, the previous language of "hating" and "taking up the cross" seems to be shaped in a different direction, particularly toward considering the long run and full costs of following Jesus as opposed to the initial burst setting out on the journey. While we often say that the first step is the hardest step, what makes it hard is when we consider the full extent and costs of the journey. 

29 ἵνα μή ποτε θέντος αὐτοῦ θεμέλιον καὶ μὴ ἰσχύοντος ἐκτελέσαι πάντες οἱ θεωροῦντες ἄρξωνται αὐτῷ ἐμπαίζειν 
Lest of him having laid a foundation and not having the resources to finish all those who behold might begin about him to mock
θέντος: AAPart gsm, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down
ἰσχύοντος: PAPart gsm, ἰσχύω, 1) to be strong  1a) to be strong in body, to be robust, to be in sound health  2) to have power  
ἐκτελέσαι: AAInf, ἐκτελέω, 1) to finish, complete 
θεωροῦντες: PAPart npm, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold
ἄρξωνται: AMSubj 3p, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
ἐμπαίζειν: PAInf, ἐμπαίζω, 1) to play with, trifle with  1a) to mock  1b) to delude, deceive
1. I am trying to honor the pronouns (the genitive αὐτοῦ and the dative αὐτῷ), which accounts for the awkwardness in this rough translation.

30 λέγοντες ὅτι Οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἤρξατο οἰκοδομεῖν καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν ἐκτελέσαι
saying “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”
λέγοντες: PAPart npm,
ἤρξατο: AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
οἰκοδομεῖν: PAInf, οἰκοδομέω, 1) to build a house, erect a building
ἴσχυσεν: AAI 3s, ἰσχύω, 1) to be strong  1a) to be strong in body, to be robust, to be in sound health  2) to have power
ἐκτελέσαι: AAInf, ἐκτελέω, 1) to finish, complete 
1. This seems to be the point of the calculation, which shapes also the meaning of the ‘hate’ of family and self. Discipleship includes counting the costs and considering what it means to set out on the journey of discipleship, versus signing up in a fit of enthusiasm without considering where this journey is going.

31 ἢ τίς βασιλεὺς πορευόμενος ἑτέρῳ βασιλεῖ συμβαλεῖν εἰς πόλεμον οὐχὶ καθίσας πρῶτον βουλεύσεται εἰ δυνατός ἐστιν ἐν δέκα χιλιάσιν ὑπαντῆσαι τῷ μετὰ εἴκοσι χιλιάδων ἐρχομένῳ ἐπ' αὐτόν; 
Or what king going in another kingdom to pitch into battle without having sat down will first deliberate if he is able with ten thousand to meet the one with twenty thousand coming against him?
πορευόμενος: PMPart nsm, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey
συμβαλεῖν: συμβάλλω, 1) to throw together, to bring together ...  1c1) to encounter in a hostile sense  1c2) to fight with one 
καθίσας: AAPart nsm, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  1a) to set, appoint, to confer a kingdom on one  2) intransitively 
βουλεύσεται: FMI 3s, βουλεύω, to deliberate, take counsel, resolve, give counsel
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ὑπαντῆσαι: AAInf, ὑπαντάω, 1) to go to meet, to meet  2) in military reference  2a) of a hostile meeting
ἐρχομένῳ: PMPart dsm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 

32 εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἔτι αὐτοῦ πόρρω ὄντος πρεσβείαν ἀποστείλας ἐρωτᾷ τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην. 
Yet if not, then he being far off having sent elder statesmen requests the terms for peace.
ὄντος: PAPart gsm, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀποστείλας: AAPart nsm, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed
ἐρωτᾷ: PAI 3s, ἐρωτάω, 1) to question  2) to ask  2a) to request, entreat, beg, beseech
1. I am trying to stay with the language of politics and peacemaking, particularly of a king who has calculated that war-making is not in his favor and so sends the elder (presbyter) ambassador, who might be less inclined toward hot-headedness and more savvy regarding the things that are needed for peace. 
2. One biblical story that may lie behind this language of "elder" is in I Kings 12, when Rehoboam becomes king after the death of his father Solomon. Solomon had been a harsh ruler and the question was whether Rehoboam would listen to the people's complaints and ease up or drill down on that harshness. The elders counseled him to ease up; his Frat brothers counseled him to bear down, which he did. It was unwise and this is the event that led to the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

33 οὕτως οὖν πᾶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ὃς οὐκ ἀποτάσσεται πᾶσιν τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ ὑπάρχουσιν οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
Therefore whoever all out of him who are not forsaking all that he has for himself is not able to be my disciple.
ἀποτάσσεται: PMI 3s, ἀποτάσσομαι, 1) to set apart, separate  1a) to separate one's self, withdraw one's self from anyone  1a1) to take leave of, bid farewell to  1b) to renounce, forsake 
ὑπάρχουσιν: PAPart dpn, ὑπάρχω, 1) to begin below, to make a beginning  1a) to begin  2) to come forth, hence to be there, be ready, be at hand  3) to be
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power
εἶναί: PAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. Again, the issue is that one ‘is not able’ as in ‘did not count the cost and as a result will fail,’ and not ‘cannot,’ as in ‘I won’t let you.’

Here are the uses for Luke of the word “hate” (μισέω):
...hand of all that hate us;, when men shall hate you, and when...
...enemies, do good to them which hate you, me, and hate not his father...
...masters: for either he will hate the one, and...
But his citizens hated him, and sent... shall be hated of all men...

Some of these uses of ‘hate’ refer to enmity, but both 14:26 and 16:13 contrast hating one with loving, following, or clinging to another. In these cases, “hate” is the path not chosen, the fate of the ‘other’ when one has given oneself to a path or a person. In c.14, it is the contested love of God v. the claims of family/oneself; in c.16 it is the contested love of God v. the claims of money. Another scriptural parallel is Romans 9:13, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated,” from the mouth of God, regarding the inheritance and familial enmity surrounding the twins Jacob and Esau. The same kind of dynamic is part of the story about Jacob’s wives, sisters Leah and Rachel, where Leah perceives herself to be ‘hated’ (Genesis 29:33) since Jacob loves Rachel more. This use of ‘hate,’ where there are two possibilities and one must choose decisively, seems to be the dynamic at work in our text. The full commitment to one possibility means the severance of commitment to another possibility.

Yet the language here is severe and violates everything that nature and faith teach regarding family. Aside from instances of abuse or mistreatment, one is naturally affectionate toward those who bear and nurture them. And the commandment itself says to “honor” one’s mother and father, which hardly seems to allow for the possibility of ‘hating’ them.

Because the notion of ‘hating’ is so contrary to the repetitive commands to love, many commentators and translators (who can’t help but to let their interpretations affect their translations) try to show that this language is less about ‘hate’ as an emotional enmity and more about declaring one’s loyalty between two options decisively.

To anticipate the preaching moment, this call to discipleship is radical, implying that those who follow Jesus are not going to be making decisions based on “what’s best for me,” or even “what’s best for our marriage/family/children.” It may mean living in that “dangerous neighborhood” or attending a less achieving school, because a gracious presence is needed there. It may mean living more simply because one’s resources can be used better for others. It may mean making unpopular choices despite the protests of one’s family. This is real and critical engagement that Jesus is talking about, a stark contrast to the typical depiction of “the happy Christian home” where one’s faith is demonstrated by how committed on is to providing every possible advantage to one’s own. That kind of choosing, it seems to me, has to be cast in the strongest language possible, because we will domesticate the gospel and make it a matter of enhancing ourselves and our families until we hear this kind of extreme language and let it shake us.


  1. Excellent work and very helpful for the direction I'm heading this week. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for not backing away from this one. Very helpful to me, also.

  3. Mark, a dear friend told me you had posted a note to me last week. I had Sunday off and was dancing and singing at a Gospel Concert. Great fun. So yes, I would love to continue the dialog on debts/trespasses. Thank you.

  4. I took note of that "are not able" as well and found it significant. I appreciate the way you tie that to the lack of calculation. I wonder though, how many things we would do if we truly had calculated the cost...

  5. Outstanding exegesis! Thank you so much... SBD+

  6. Pam here: Thank you. Was going in similar direction and so helpful to see this exegesis to keep me on track.

  7. A very tough reading. Many thanks for your comments. There's something in this against the so-called 'prosperity Gospel' I imagine!

  8. A very tough reading. Many thanks for your comments. There's something in this against the so-called 'prosperity Gospel' I imagine!

  9. Looking at this passage and thinking of Gideon's battle; how God insisted the number of warriors be reduced because,after all, just as in this instance, it is God who will accomplish what is necessary. Our unity with Jesus is first and foremost our believing in what he has accomplished, for all of us, for all of time. He does not need us; He DOES call us.

  10. The episode links closely with the Banquet Invitation in which one of the invited says he 'cannot come' because he's just married. The 'cannot come' there is like the 'cannot' in this episode. In this episode, Jesus also invites one to 'come', as he often does in the calling (better, inviting) of the disciples. Seeing this as an invitation softens things a bit! As does the radical statement of Jesus about hating family. Family offers security, love, identity etc (as well as obligation, duty, responsibility and other chains) but ultimately my family cannot (sic) deliver; ultimately, I inherit death from my family. The cross language is also a language of hope because the truth is that G-d raises up the humiliated, rejected, abandoned etc. Jesus is inviting and offering true (not fake) life here.

  11. So a choice in translation language. ἀνήρ is clearly 'man' but ἄνθρωπος could also be translated as 'person,' or 'human being.' Why wouldn't we?


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