From the Gospel of Luke:
[Jesus said,] “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 14: 26 (NRSV) – May 27, 2013.)
Wow! Jesus says some really tough stuff occasionally, and this one ranks really near the top. In my opinion, this is just slightly below the cut-off-your-hand and pluck-your-eye out stuff in terms of toughness.
Both those instructions and this demand, however, are great examples of why the Gospels and, indeed, every book in the whole bible need to be read as units, rather than as collections of individual verses. This is true even of the Psalms and the Book of Proverbs which pretty much are collections of individual verses.
One cannot read this statement from Luke’s Gospel without also considering the following pronouncements from Jesus (also recorded in Luke):
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (6:27)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (10:27)
“You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’ ” (18:20)
And, of course, external to this Gospel are the other three Gospels and their record of other things Jesus said.
We cannot lift one statement out of context and focus on it in isolation; we cannot exclude everything else we know about Jesus and what he said when we consider this one pronouncement.
It occurred to me that someone might do that with my life. Someone might look at something I’d written or said 25 years ago when I was a practicing attorney litigating medical malpractice claims. Suppose my examiner had no other knowledge of who I am, what I had done, what I have done since. What a distorted image of my life that one statement, from the professional litigator I used to be, would present! Gospels (and all the biblical texts) are like that; they are living things. We have to read them and consider them as whole units.
Yes, Jesus said we have to hate our family members to be his disciples. Yes, he said to cut off our hands and pluck out our eyes if they are causes of stumbling. But . . . he was a First Century Palestinian Jew. But . . . he taught using a variety of techniques, including the Semitic hyperbole (Google that, if you like). But . . . he demanded love of neighbor and honor for parents a lot more often than he made outlandish statements like this. Take everything into account! Read everything in context! The Gospel is a living thing.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.