Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26‘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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For 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? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Translation: But great crowds were going along with him, and he turned (and) said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, that one is not able to be my disciple. Whoever does not bear their cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, does not first sit (and) count the cost, if he has (enough) to complete?--that lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish, all the ones seeing might begin to mock him, saying, 'This person began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first to deliberate if he is able with ten thousand to meet with twenty thousand coming upon him? And if not, yet being far from him, he sent a message asking for peace. So, therefore, any one of you who does not forsake all that he has is not able to be my disciple."
Background and situation: Verses 26-27 are similar to Matthew 10: 37-38 as well as two passages in the non-canonical gospel of Thomas (55:1, 101:1-3). The exhortation to take up the cross appears first in Mark (8:34) and is repeated in both Matthew and Luke. The rest of the passage is Lukan.
The lection is preceded by the parable of the great banquet (14: 15-24). Those invited to the banquet declined to attend, citing other priorities--care of land, possessions (oxen), and family (newly married).
Hating your family and your life: "Great crowds were going along with him." This reminds us both that Jesus is still journeying toward Jerusalem, as he has been since 9:51, and that Jesus had a large popular following. People tend to forget: Jesus was beloved by multitudes.
Jesus "turned" to address them. In Luke, this is not unusual. Jesus is said to "turn" and speak to someone, or some group, on six different occasions, usually with a message of special import. This one is stark: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, that one is not able to be my disciple."
This is reminiscent of episodes from Paolo Pasolini's film, The Gospel according to Matthew. From the perspective of the camera, you are in the crowd following Jesus. Most of the time, you can only see his back, though, occasionally, he turns around to deliver a difficult saying, almost as if daring people to continue following him.
Luke appears to be doing something like that here. The fundamental message is completely uncompromising. You are "not able" to be a follower if you place anything, even your own family, even your own life, above following Jesus.
Luke has several sayings of Jesus which could be interpreted as "anti-family." (Tannehill has a helpful list: 8: 19-21, 9:59-62, 12:51-53, 14: 26-27, 18:29, 21:16.) Of these six passages, this week's saying is the most abrupt. (Note that the parallel saying in Matthew (10:37) says nothing about hate (miseo). Instead, in Matthew, Jesus cautions against loving family "more than me.")
"Hate" should be understood in the context of the first-century middle-eastern world. It is not so much an emotional position, but a matter of honor and shame. Tannehill on miseo:
In the ancient world...hating one's family meant doing something that injured them, particularly by disgracing them. Life was family centered, and the honor of the family was very highly valued. Every family member was expected to protect the honor of the family. If some members joined a suspect movement and abandoned their home, this brought disgrace on the family... (p. 235)
This would have been a real concern particularly at the time Luke was writing. Division within families quite often accompanies the birth of new social or religious movements. Letters survive to this day of some Roman families who complained that their son or daughter had run off and joined some group called the "Christians."
No doubt some Jewish families also felt the strain of divided loyalties, and no doubt some felt dishonored by a family member's participation in the Jesus movement. Jesus' saying nevertheless reflects the all-encompassing nature of following him. No other loyalties are to have precedence over that of journeying with Jesus "on the way" of discipleship.
The word "hate" is laden with emotion in our cultural context. It suggests repulsion at a visceral level. In this case, however, in the context of first century middle-eastern culture, to "hate" one's own self means that the person disconnects from everything that has heretofore defined that person.
To put it another way, one's past no longer defines who they are. One's identity is no longer formed by one's former allegiances, nor one's experiences in life, nor even one's genetics. These are part of the old world which is giving way to the new world of God. Followers of Jesus are not defined by the past, but by their work in the present and their future hope.
Bearing the cross: As if that saying weren't enough, Jesus follows with another haymaker: "Whoever does not bear their cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple." Followers of Jesus live with the expectation that they may meet the same fate as will Jesus.
For which of you, wanting to build a tower, does not first sit (and) count the cost, if he has (enough) to complete?--that lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish, all the ones seeing might begin to mock him, saying, 'This person began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first to deliberate if he is able with ten thousand to meet with twenty thousand coming upon him? And if not, yet being far from him, he sent a message asking for peace.
These two (semi)-parables suggest making reasonable assessments of success--or failure--before embarking on a task. What if one gets started building a tower, or conducting a war, only to find out that their resources are not sufficient to complete it? The result will be shame--"all the ones seeing might begin to mock him"--which, as mentioned above, was a weighty matter in a culture where issues of honor and shame were paramount. Jesus' would-be followers are to consider quite thoroughly whether or not they have the intestinal "resources" to follow Jesus.
The lection concludes with a summary statement: "So, therefore, any one of you who does not forsake (apotasso) all that he has is not able to be my disciple." This is the third time in this short lection that Jesus has proposed that a person is "not able to" do something. The phrase is ou dunatai einai--"not able to be" my disciple.
First, anyone who puts close relationships before Jesus is "not able to be" his disciple. Second, anyone who does not bear their cross is "not able." Third, anyone who does not forsake "all that he has" is "not able."
We saw it coming in the parable of the great banquet. The first invitees all had business (or new wives) to attend to. In this lection, which follows immediately upon that one, we see that all of one's past--possessions, land, family, assets, "all that he has"--is not able to deliver. They are all provisional, but Jesus is ultimate.
Image: Christ carrying the cross, El Greco