Yes, that teaching from Jesus certainly catches one’s attention, doesn’t it? How could Jesus be telling us to hate anyone, especially our own family members? After all, elsewhere Jesus tells us that we are not supposed to even hate our enemies. According to the Ignatius Study Bible’s elaboration on this verse:
14:26 hate: An idiomatic term meaning “to love less” (Gen 29:31-33; Mal 1:2-3). Not even the sacredness of family loyalty should outweigh our commitment to Christ, since we must be willing to abandon even close relationships to follow him (Mt 10:37) (CCC 1618, 2544).
- Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2010), 136.
With this in mind, we should examine this gospel passage along the lines of favoring someone less than another. Note that the Catholic Spanish Lectionary presents Luke 14:26 as (and I will use bold text for emphasis), “Si alguno quiere seguirme y no me prefiere a su padre y a su madre …no puede ser mi discípulo” which, in English, is, “If someone wants to follow me and does not prefer me to his father and to his mother …he cannot be my disciple.” Here the translators decided to express what was probably meant (“does not prefer”) rather than what was literally said (“hate”). Such are the sorts of challenges that beset scholars when trying to translate the Bible into different languages.
Nevertheless, we still want to be careful not to water down Jesus’ words, because he was still making a very strong statement. In the ancient world, there was a sacredness attached to family loyalty, and one’s family was among the most important things in one’s life. But Jesus tells us that our relationship with him has to be our top priority, even over our families, even over our own lives. As Vatican II explains, we are to “strive to please God rather than men, always ready to abandon everything for Christ” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 4).