Jesus’ use of the word ‘hate’ confounds

 

WORD MADE FLESH

23th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 5, 2010
Wisdom 9.13-18 | Psalm 90 | Philemon 9-10, 12-17 | Luke 14.25-33

Ralph Himsl

August 30, 2010

Luke's Gospel for today recounts an astonishing event, remarkable enough in my view, to merit a special name, one whose use would call up a complete image in the manner of the phrase, "the woman at the well" or "the parable of the prodigal son" or, from the secular world, "crossing the Rubicon."

The use of words of this sort in communication admits economy, counting of course on a common background of the audience.

I know of no such phrase or ready identification for the startling event in the verses 25 to 26 of today's Gospel reading. "Large crowds were travelling with Jesus and he turned and said to them 'Whoever comes to me and does not hate their father and mother, spouse and children, brother and sisters, yes and even their life itself cannot be my disciple.'"

The word "thunderstruck" best describes my reaction.

Words so much at variance with what Jesus taught elsewhere. In Matthew 19.18 replying to the question of the rich young man about what he needs do to have eternal life, Jesus offers a number of prescriptions, among which, "love thy neighbour as thyself."

In Mark 12.28, a lawyer asks him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" Jesus replies, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself."

Matthew, in 22.39 contains the same reference almost word for word.

I can see Jesus' use of the word "hate" in today's reading as a means of provoking discussion and inquiry among his listeners, but Luke says nothing of that. From his spare prose we might think that the multitude showed no reaction, no nods, no murmurs.

WHAT IS HE SAYING?

However, people in those days likely behaved much as people would do today, asking "What does this mean, to follow him I must 'hate my father . . .?'" Like us they would wonder, "What is he telling us?"

By this time in his ministry, people would have felt enough at ease with Jesus to address him directly, "Lord! How does this fit with what you have taught in other places about loving one another?" They must have done so and he must have explained. I wish Luke had caught some of this.

When a text perplexes me, I often consult certain sure, trusted resources: a coffee group, my immediate community of believers, reference books and the wondrous Internet. Each of these offered possible, sometimes ingenious, sometimes scholarly explanations for this remarkable passage: translation difficulties; loss of something in manual transcription; and an elegant approach to understanding: "Let the Bible explain the Bible."

The ingenious category contains my favourite: Luke received the original report from a witness in the crowd just as someone jostled him and he misheard Jesus' remarks.

So the mystery abides. I must meditate and pray about it, and though I cannot now resolve its anomalous nature, I venture to name it "The Puzzling Incident."