Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, "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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicul him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
Oof, Jesus. These are some tough words. As one author wrote, "this is one of those passages that challenge the idea of literal translation." What is clear here, is that Jesus knows how to use literary tools when he teaches. In the brief stories of a builder and a king sitting down to prepare he uses analogies to make his point. So in that first part, we can trust that perhaps Jesus is using some hyperbole to emphasize his point.
Jesus hasn't gotten rid of the ten commandments, so we are still under the instruction to honor our mother and father. Yet here, Jesus says we must hate father and mother, wife and children, brother and sisters, and yes, even life itself, in order to be his disciple. I think the point Jesus is making here is that being a disciple of Christ must become the most important thing in our lives - to the point of forsaking all else.
For most people, when we value something in our life whether a job or a belief system we can put it first, make it a priority, for a while. But as soon as that something interferes with the people closest to us - our parents, our spouse or children, our siblings, we might be quick to drop it. If that something threatens our very lives, we are even more likely to let it go. Jesus is making the point that becoming his disciples means we must be willing to risk these things. As important as our lives and our families are, following Jesus is even more important.
I don't think Jesus is really saying that we must hate our loved ones in order to follow him. I do think he is saying that if it comes down to it, if we have to make a choice between them and him, your answer should be Jesus. He's also not saying that we must literally hate every aspect of our lives in order to truly follow him. But again, if it comes down to it, if we have to make a choice between our comfortable life or following Jesus, what will your answer be?
Jesus is asking us to prepare. To look ahead (like the builder and the king) and to think about how we would respond should the situation arise. Hopefully, it never will, but if it does, are you ready? Are you ready to put following Jesus above all else? Above your family, above your job, above your political party, above your country? I know what Jesus hopes your answer will be.
God of all, above all, help us to put following Jesus at the center of our lives. We pray we might never be in a situation where have to choose between Jesus and the ones we love, between Jesus and our very lives. Yet, we pray that if the time comes, we will trust and love you enough to make the right choice. In Jesus' name, we pray, Amen.