We're back at it today after a few days of much-needed and enjoyed time in the Texas hill country...
Today's passage presents us with a difficult teaching on the struggle of priorities in our lives. Taken literally, the notion of hating our our parents, spouses, and children is unimaginable to come from the lips of our Lord. Of course, Jesus does not literally intend for us to hate anyone, especially those closest to us. As has been recognized from the beginning of the church, Jesus is using a Hebrew idiom employing hyperbole to point out the necessity of giving our relationship with God the highest priority in our lives. As St. Cyril points out, "He demands our highest affection for himself and that very correctly. The love of God in those who are perfect in mind has something in it superior both to the honor due to parents and to the natural affection felt for children" (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke). Symeon expands on this commentary by pointing out that the root at which Jesus is striking is our own selfishness and self-centeredness. "When we through the grace of Christ live in a time of profound and perfect peace, we learn for sure that cross and death consist in nothing else than the complete putting to death of self-will. He who pursues his own will, however slightly, will never be able to observe the law of Christ the Savior" (Symeon the New Theologian, Discourses, 20.1).
The point is clear, nothing must stand in the way of our devotion to Christ. Nothing must be more important to us. We must die to our selfish desires and ways and seek transformation as we seek the ways of God in his kingdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously sums up this calling and writes, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die" (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship). A less poetic but more literal rendering of the German (Jeder Ruf Christi führt in den Tod.) would read, "Every call of Christ leads to death." Again, Jesus' meaning is unmistakable: in our lives, God must come first. When we do that, the rest of our relationships will flourish by his grace.