There it is: that word, the verb, “to hate.” How is it possible for Christ Jesus to advise anyone to practice enmity against others, to judge them, to be intolerant of them, to seek to undermine them and marginalize them and, if need be, to destroy them?
After all, one of our commandments, inherited by all Christians, is to honor our father and our mother, and it means to love, to respect, to abide by, and to make room for them in our lives. So, is Jesus really advising us to practice enmity toward others, to foster hatred toward them, to turn away from even our own families as a condition for following him?
No, of course not. If he were, Jesus would be advising us to break God’s commandments, and it is impossible for Jesus to teach and to counsel others to break God’s law: that would be tantamount to Jesus saying, “Disregard God; pay no attention to him; do not obey him.” And Jesus would never do that: Jesus would never undermine the Message of Truth, the Word of his Father, a message that, as St. James tells us in his letter (1:21) is planted in our hearts—by God Himself—and which has the power to save us when we surrender to it.
By using the word ‘hate’ Jesus immediately gets the attention of his followers, for the word ‘hate’ is emotionally-charged, and it carries a negative connotation. Anyone who has hated another, or who has been hated by another, knows full well that hatred is destructive, that when it goes on the offensive, and it often does, it seeks to make one uncomfortable, insecure, paranoid—to engender in one fear and, if need be, subject one to terror.
So what is Jesus really getting at, what is he stressing, by using this verb, to hate?
Jesus wants us to understand, to see, that to follow him on the Way requires a very real, irrevocable commitment; and that this commitment to the Kingship of God, if we want, begins now, in the present moment of our life, with a very real dedication to Christ’s Love, Mercy, Joy, Peace, Compassion, and Justice. This is the action of the Kingdom, which is in fact God’s action: Others plant and water, but it is God who makes all things grow; God who produces the fruits of His Love in us, which, by the way, is nothing to do with being a “good” Christian. The actions of someone trying to be a “good” Christian” may, on the surface, look good, but they are always actions that result from an image of what it means to look good, or holy, or righteous—but not directly from God Himself, whose nature is to Love, not an image.
The action Jesus asks of his disciples comes from deep down inside ourselves, from deep down inside of God, and it is a realistic, concrete action: It is a decision to give oneself totally, without reservations, to living in the presence, and in the service, of the Kingdom, which is the presence of the Crucified-Risen Lord Jesus Christ in all areas, all aspects of our life; it is a commitment to love and serve only God, the creator and redeemer of all creatures, who is always and everywhere our sovereign, our King.
This, Jesus, says, you must be very clear about, and you must know that if you mean to follow me all the way, to the very end, you will have to surrender to God over and over, once and for all. It will indeed require sacrifice from you: You will, through the work of the Spirit, renounce everything and everyone, you will practice non-attachment, you will surrender your false self, so as to know that God is the Truth, the whole Truth, the only Truth.
But do we have the strength in Christ to die to self? Do we have the strength of Christ to renounce, for the sake of love and God’s Kingdom, all that which is not of God so as to live in God, for God, and with God?
This commitment, Jesus says, is whole-hearted, and it is, I believe, like the Shema of the Jews, which begins, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is Lord alone.” Our Shema of the disciple of Christ, is: “Hear, O Christian, consecrated to God, and loved by God, you will love the Lord your Christ, and Him you will serve with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”
May God himself in Christ draw forth from us this surrender; may God be the very strength of our surrender, and may every last bit of our being in God, with God, and for God, redeem us and save us, and redeem and save the world.