Why did Jesus teach his disciples to “hate” their families?

A Biblical commentary on Luke 4:25-33 by Fr Randolf Flores SVD

“Family first before country.” This could be an attitude indicating a fractured culture. “The Filipino is not community-driven, certainly not nation-driven” as one one writer laments. Worse is nepotism—favoring relatives or personal friends because of relationship than because of their abilities. As Filipinos, we tend to confuse nepotism with pagmamahal sa pamilya (family loyalty). Yet we know for a fact that nepotism breeds graft and corruption and vice versa.

Is it what Jesus up to when he says, “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” (Lk 14:26)? Early Christian stories recount that James, the brother of Jesus, (Mk 6:3) is elected the bishop of Jerusalem because he is the kamag-anak (“relative”) of Jesus. Does this explain that Jesus is, at times, “anti-family?”.

We should not think that Jesus teaches disrespect of one’s family. The Old Testament says very clearly: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exod 20:12). Loving one’s family is loving God, as in the teaching of Jesus, son of Sira: “Those who respect their father will have long life, and those who honor their mother obey the Lord” (Sirach 3:6). Why then does Jesus, the son of Joseph, teach to “hate one’s family?”

In recent years, bible scholars suggest four possible insights on this teaching:

(1) Jesus has two types of disciples: those who stay at home and live the gospel in the context of their families and those who are sent out to preach Jesus’ message. It is to this second group of disciples that Jesus addresses this teaching to leave behind their families.

(2) To break away from the family in that culture may indicate that Jesus disapproves a family that is patriarchal and dominated by men.

(3) It may also mean that Jesus is forming a surrogate family, a new family of brothers and sisters that has God as the only father.

(4) Having a family is a form of security, leaving home would mean giving up that security to be in solidarity with many people who are homeless and landless, something that the prophets did in the Old Testament.

In the end, Jesus is not against the family. But, he requires his followers to see beyond the confines of their own particular families, a new and bigger “family” with God as  the Father (cf. Mt 23:9).

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