This passage occurs in Year C of the narrative lectionary, most recently Sept 4, 2022.
Regardless of the great imagery used in Jesus passages, the word "hate" is the stumbling block to this passage. BDAG suggests a softer translation, as in "disregard." I think this is better than "hate" but this doesn't really save the day! Jesus words to disregard our family is difficult to understand. I offer below a handful directions for preaching.
I have some notes on the verb tenses today. They do not change, but amplify the challenge of the passage.
μισεω (14.26; "hate") Hate may not be the best translation here. BDAG puts it, "depending on the context, this verb ranges in meaning from 'disfavor' to 'detest.' The English term 'hate' generally suggests effective connotations that do not always do justice, especially to some Semitic shame-honor oriented use of μισεω (שנא in Hebrew) in the sense 'hold in disfavor, be disinclined to, have relatively little regard for.' In fact, BDAG even suggests translating it "disfavor, disregard" in contrast to preferential treatment"
Note: In previous years, I left open the possibility that Jesus calls for us to have emotional antipathy toward our family. I do not believe this is the case, for Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Three preaching possibilities then emerge
- I think Jesus is calling us to move toward him, forsaking all other priorities in our lives. To what extent do we let love of not just things, but others, get in the way of our devotion to Jesus?
- Jesus will help us ultimately create fictive families, social groups that extend beyond blood lines (or extend into his blood line). What are ways in which the church can function as a truer family for people?
- To what extent must we let go of someone in order to love them? Ie, we can love someone so much that we make an idol of them, or seek to live vicariously through them or attach to much of our worth to the relationship. Buddhism teaches the need for detachment. To what extent must we detach ourselves in order to fully love?
μαθητης (14:26, 27 and 33; "disciple", but read on) The word μαθητης means literally student. In Latin, student is"disciplus" and so we get "disciple." The word disciple then, sounds like discipline in English. There is indeed a discipline element of following Jesus. Yet, the word in Greek does not imply discipline, but rather an intimate student, one who seeks to be caught up in the way of the master. However, I wonder if in this case, we would do better to translate it as student. How might this sound:
"If anyone comes to me and does not disregard his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-- yes, even his own life-- he cannot be my student."
It is not necessarily less harsh, but it makes is clear -- Jesus is not seeking emotional aggression against our family, but rather we cannot learn from him unless we are willing to make him first in our lives.
I also appreciate the fact that Jesus distinguishes between those who are hanging out with him and those who will learn from him. Are you hanging out with Jesus? Or are you learning from him?
Some other interesting words:
* οχλοι (14.25; "crowds") This word does not mean leaders or elite, but really the everyday mass of people; can also mean 'mob'
* ψηφιζω (14.28; "calculate") I don't think it is important for this passage, but this is the verb that is used in Revelation to indicate it is time to "add" up the number values for a word such as "KASER NERON" (666).
* εμπαιζω (14.29, "ridicule") In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is the only one mocked (18:32;22:63, 23:11, 23:26)
* αποστασσω (14.33, "give up") This word means basically "say good-bye." This is a fun image, saying good-bye to one's possessions.
Grammar concept: present tense
A number of verbs in 14.25-27 are in the present tense. Greek does not distinguish between present progressive (I am running) and present like English (I run). Generally the present tense connotes present progressive. When I was taught Greek, I was taught to even add the adverb "continually" to present tense translations, "I am running continually." I am not sure if this is as helpful in all cases, but the basic point of my teacher bears itself out in Greek. The present tense generally signifies an action that is on-going. In this case, the verb of carrying the cross, following and (gasp) hating are all in the present tense.
To put it simply: All the important verbs in this passage are in the
present tense, suggesting that renouncing our possessions, disregarding
our loved ones, bearing our cross and following Jesus are on-going,
life-long activities. That sounds difficult. Good thing the most
gracious chapter in the entire Bible is next
Sentence break-down: 14.33
Greek: ουτως ουν πας εξ υμων ουκ αποτασσεται πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν ου δυναται ειναι μου μαθητης
"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
ουτως ουν: "Thus, therefore" or "Likewise." Two little words here. Don't change much; they appear a combined nearly 2000x in the NT/OT so its good to recognize them for that they are, namely, fill-in words that don't alter too much!
πας εξ υμων: "All of you" This you can literally translate word for word. The pronoun is in the genitive, but your brain figured this out automatically.
ος : hos is a relative pronoun. They behave a lot like in English. Relative pronouns start a relative clause, like, "I love the one whom I married." Whom I married is the relative clause here. The relative pronoun, like in English, is in the case that it functions within the relative pronoun. Back to my example, this would not be correct English: I love the one who I married. Who must become a whom because it is not behaving as a subject in the relative clause. This happens in Greek too. Greek relative pronouns behave a bit differently, or perhaps one could say, a bit more advanced. Because the nouns (and thus pronouns) have a gender, you can connect the pieces a bit more clearly in Greek, because the pronoun contains more information that will link it back to what it refers. In English, it is considered poor writing to move the "antecedent" (the thing to which the relative pronoun refers) far away from the pronoun. Greek has less of a problem doing this. Moreover, Greek can build massive sentences that continue to add relative sentences.
ουκ αποτασσεται: "is not saying good bye." Reminder here -- the verb is in the present tense. This suggests Jesus is not talking about a one time action.
πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν: "all your possessions." A couple of things here. First, it is all in the dative, because it is the object of the verb "αποτασσεται." This is a case where the dative takes the direct object (normally accusative). Don't ask why. Just accept that some verbs take a direct object in the dative! If it helps, think about it this way. To translate the dative, you often can add the word "to" in front of the word. In this case we add in, "say good-bye TO all your possessions." The only word here not in the dative is "εαυτου " which here is a genitive of possession (ie, belonging to you.). It is slightly out of order for our English eyes. Literally you get here: "to all the belonging to you possessions." Or more eloquently: "All your possessions."
ου δυναται ειναι: Not able to be! This is a case where to describe what is happening is complex (helper verb taking an infinitive) but translation is easy: "not able to be." (normally to translate an infinitive in English (from Greek) you need to add "to" in front of the verb).
μου μαθητης: Like with the word "εαυτου " we have a genitive possessive occur before the noun: "my disciples."