Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Meaning of "Hating" Your Father and Mother, etc.

I must admit I struggled over this passage of scripture here in Luke 14:

" 25 A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple."

Now, at first glance, this made no sense. How could Christ, the very person who tells us to love both our friends and enemies, command us to hate someone? I did some searching on this and found a rather interesting forum debate on the issue. This guy summed it up beautifully:

Garrett Mitchener writes,

I must object to Pastor Billy-Reuben. It is far easier to assume that the Bible means what you want it to mean rather than think and study and figure it out.

Jesus said:
Matthew 5:21 �You have heard that it was said to an older generation,�Do not murder,� and �whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.� But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment..."

Matthew 5:43 �You have heard that it was said, �Love your neighbor� and �hate your enemy.� But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven...

Mark 12:28 Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, �Which commandment is the most important of all?� 12:29 Jesus answered, �The most important is: �Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.� 12:31 The second is: �Love your neighbor as yourself.� There is no other commandment greater than these.�

Either we must conclude that Jesus contradicts himself, demanding hatred one day and condemning mere anger the next, or we must read the passages on hatred and strife differently.

We know Jesus speaks in metaphorical language from time to time. In calling some of his disciples who were fishermen,

Luke 5:10 Then Jesus said to Simon, �Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.�

and he does not mean that they will be using physical nets to capture people to be skinned and fileted and smoked. The parable of the sower was not a lesson in agriculture. And although many people with faith the size of a mustard seed have tried, neither scriptures nor history records anyone having success at literally moving a mountain.

The Bible is also full of exaggerated language that was not meant to be taken literaly. Jesus says to forgive a person who asks seventy times seven (=490) times, and does not mean that on the 491st time we're supposed to say no.

A reading of Luke 14:26 that is consistent with other things Jesus says would be to take it as an exaggeration, that your love for God must be so great that your love for any other think looks like hate, and this is what many study Bibles suggest. Pastor Gargalo says correctly that his mother must not come between him and God, but to literally hate her is to go against the Ten Commandments and Matthew 5:43 and Mark 12:31.

As for Revelation 3:16, I find it astonishing that Pastor Billy-Reuben attempts to ground a literal interpretation of a troublesome verse on a passage from a book that consists almost entirely of figurative language. God does not intend to literally ingest the people of Laodicea, become nauseated, and vomit. He means that their metaphorically half-baked response toward him makes him metaphorically sick. Literal interpretation is not necessarily the most true or meaningful reading of any particular text. The Bible is full of poetry, riddles, history, conversations, myths, essays, visions, and nightmares, all of which are True as far as Christians are concerned, and they communicate God's Truth in different ways. Metaphor and exaggeration frequently clarify a message in a way that plain speech does not, and even plain speech is inherently symbolic communication with written word and sound standing in for concepts. And Rev 3:16 cannot be about interpreting scripture -- The New Testament as we know it had not been written down and collected at the time of John's vision.

You must carefully and prayerfully consider what meaning you attribute to any particular passge, including what form of literature it is, the tradition of its meaning, its context, its relationship to the rest of God's word, and the lead of the Holy Spirit.

That makes sense, considering that the usage of the word "hate" gets you to really stop and think about the passage. Metaphors in the Bible often do that. They make you stop and think, "Did He just say THAT? Did He mean that literally or was He exaggerating to make a point?" Anyway, this does a good job of it. And, by the way, the New Living Translation translates the verse differently: "26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison." That makes sense as well, for it is saying, as I've heard one pastor say, "Your love for God must be so deep to be Christ's disciple, that any other love would look like hate."

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