The following words from Mark 12:30-31 may well be the most famous statement of Jesus Christ: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Less well known is Luke 14:26, which seems to be saying something altogether different: it speaks of hatred of others.
The Great Contradiction?
Luke 14:26 is as follows: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” This verse is an excellent example of why we should never apply a Bible verse without considering its context. We know what Jesus’ second commandment is (in Mark 12:31) and we know that He says of the first and the second: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” So even if we were to understand Luke 14:26 as an instruction to actively hate our relatives, we must realize that Jesus attaches more importance to Mark 12:31.
To understand Jesus’ words properly, we must ask ourselves if Luke 14:26 contradicts Mark 12:31. And because the apparent contradiction starts with Mark 12, let’s look at that passage first.
How we relate to our neighbor
Our “neighbors” are not necessarily the people who live next door to us, although only a few Bible translations speak more comprehensively of “others” whereas most refer to “neighbors”. The individuals intended here are: your family, fellow-parishioners, co-workers, shop assistants, teachers, refuse collectors, etc. etc., and yes, even the people living next door.
When we have dealings with any of these people, Jesus tells us to approach them lovingly, and with respect. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). You yourself would wish to be treated with love and respect, so treat others in this manner as well. Value them, in the manner you value yourself; do not be disrespectful.
How we relate to God
Before Jesus’ second commandment, comes His first: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” God is not in competition with our neighbors. As and when we have dealings with our neighbors, we should treat them with love and respect.
But to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”, is what our state of mind should be, all day, every day. Jesus says that God must be our priority. So, we should consider how to ensure that every emotion, feeling, thought and expression towards God is one of love and gratitude (for example Psalm 107:1; 118:1); worship (for example John 4:24, Hebrews 12:28) and praise – Psalm 136. This is a very active and constant state of mind; it involves our entire being.
How we relate to Jesus
Luke 14:26 is about Jesus, and our allegiance to Him. He is our Messiah, our Teacher, our personal Savior. Following Jesus often requires sacrifice. Many people think of Jesus as the Bringer of Peace, but they forget that the peace He brings is the unique harmony between God and mankind – it does not relate to “peace between people”. This, in itself, is important to remember, because due to the wars that still exist on earth, some people argue that Jesus “failed”. But ending human wars was never His mission.
Jesus (even) prepares us for potential conflict between ourselves and our relatives. In Matthew 10:34-36 He says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This brings us back to our verse in Luke 14. When Jesus tells us to love God, and that He is the Way to God (John 14:6), not everybody we know is going to agree.
Many people will disagree, and these may even include our closest relatives. They will not accept Jesus in the way that we do, and will possibly even dislike or reject us for choosing Jesus. Perhaps, as described in Matthew 10:34-36, our own father, mother, child, brother or sister may end up opposing us – the “sword” that Jesus speaks of. To keep the peace, we may feel tempted to prioritize them over our Lord Jesus Christ. But if we do, we risk compromising our eternal future. These relatives are not more important than Jesus.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me”. Matthew 10:37 clarifies exactly what the words in Luke 14:26 mean. Jesus isn’t asking us to treat our relatives with hatred – He (still) wants us to love them. But, He is appealing to our priorities: He wants us to prioritize Him over them. Essentially, if it should come to choosing between Him and our relatives, or even between Him and our own life, He is asking us to love Him, and hate all that separates us from Him.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to choose between Him and relatives or our own life, every day. But “choosing Jesus on a daily basis” does involve our personal willingness to “crucify” our own desires, sinful aspirations, our self-importance and self-reliance, in favor of Jesus.
Jesus refers to this as our willingness to carry the cross in Matthew 10:38. And yes, we may encounter difficulties, but Jesus encourages us to persevere. Because (verse 39) “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” If we prioritize our own life over serving Jesus, we will lose our life. But if we are willing to let go of our own life, we find life with Jesus.
Does this mean that we “lose out”? No! Jesus promises that we will be blessed if we prioritize His Kingdom over other things: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30), indicating that we will ultimately not be at a disadvantage for choosing the Kingdom of God.
Being a disciple of Jesus means making Him our utmost priority, and “hating” any potential separation between Him and us. Hopefully we will be able to share our joy of knowing Him with our parents and siblings. If not, Jesus is still, always, our Number One.
 Again, for most of us, this will be our way of life, rather than our physical being alive