Hate mom and dad? Jesus can’t be serious. This is one of those Bible passages that gives fits to the folks who base their faith solely on a literal reading of scripture. If “hate” is explained away as really meaning “love less”, it doesn’t really help the ultra-literal faithful very much. In fact it raises a lot bigger problem. If words don’t really mean what they say; if this passage is metaphor or overstatement for effect; or if over the years words are pliable; what else in the Bible is not entirely literal?
For openers, the accounts of Creation are clearly metaphorical as evidenced by overwhelming scientific evidence. The punishments prescribed in Leviticus are way over the top, to say the least. Presently there are over five million different species of life on earth. Did Noah really have the time and space to pack them all away on the ark? Resolving these anomalies is not a 21st Century phenomenon. 17th Century Anglican Saint Jeremy Taylor tells us: “He that speaks against his own reason, speaks against his own conscience; and therefore, it is certain that no man serves God with a good conscience who serves against his reason.”
In that context, it is perfectly reasonable that Jesus is dramatizing a point and the word “hate” really does not literally mean hate, but the more conditional “love less.” Loving God with our whole heart is the core of the Great Commandment. When Jesus tells us we must love him more than our family, even more than life itself, he is asserting his divinity. And he’s telling us as clearly and bluntly as possible, just what is the cost of discipleship.
Yes, in Baptism we are saved by the grace of God. Yes, it is a gift bought by the blood of Christ alone. We don’t buy it. We don’t earn it. But, our faith does come with a price. We must be faithful. We cannot ignore it. There are no discounts on discipleship. Jesus tells us we must take up our cross and follow him. Yes we are saved by faith alone (sola fide.) But no, that faith is not a totem that we can pack away in the closet of our soul. Our faith must be faithful. We must stand up for Jesus every day. He doesn’t say: Look we both know you’re saved, so just take up your cross as a favor to me when you find the time. No, taking up the cross is his order, not our option.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this the distinction between “cheap” and “costly” grace. In his aptly named book: “The Cost of Discipleship” he tells us: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline…grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” You don’t have to be an adherent of literal interpretation to know that Jesus is not peddling “cheap grace” in this or any other gospel. Salvation demands discipleship. We must embrace Christ’s “costly grace.” And that is a grace that Bonhoeffer tells us: “… is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him.” Bonhoeffer, of course, had first-hand experience; paying the price of discipleship to a Nazi executioner.
The message of this gospel is that we cannot pocket the gift of salvation with a perfunctory thank you and ignore the call to discipleship. Salvation and the cross are inexorably bound together. We must take up the cross of costly grace. We must pay the full price of discipleship… No discounts.
Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.