All us have favourite Bible passages we are drawn to and not so favourite Bible passages we avoid, such as this one in Luke 14:26. Jesus is speaking, “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”. Such jarring words! What could Jesus possibly mean?

Essential to being human is relationships and connectedness to a community, starting with our family, the one we are born or adopted into, and the family we have or aspire to create. Family relationships are one of the most critical forms of experience that shape our identity and vitally important for our individual well-being. They meet our deep longing for belonging, which is a fundamental human need. How then do we explain this seemingly irreconcilable conflict between being human and fulfilling Jesus’ requirement of his followers?

Verse 27 is helpful. Jesus continues, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”. Paul Barnett explains, “Jesus is using the language of emotional comparison. Such must be the absolute loyalty to him that it eclipses all other loyalties, whether to parents, spouse or children”.

To make further sense of Jesus’ words, we must consider other instances where Jesus talked about looking after our parents (Mark 7:9-13), committing ourselves to being lifelong faithful partners (Mark 10:7-9) and treasuring children (Mark 10:13-16). When we do, we see two complementary but unequal priorities.

Quoting Barnett again, “The disciple’s first priority is to Jesus that is then expressed in a subsidiary priority to parents and family. The lesser priority (family) is encapsulated within the absolute priority (Jesus). This lesser priority in no way implies a lower standard of commitment. We reveal the measure of our commitment to Jesus by the earnestness of our commitment to parents, spouses, children and grandchildren”. Furthermore, while our loyalty to Jesus is absolute, it will be expressed in varying ways. For instance, some are called to overseas mission work, while others are called to local mission work. 

Not understanding this distinction can produce a practice of Christianity that’s inauthentic. As followers of Jesus, we are to fully embrace the call to complete surrender and obedience to Christ but not at the expense of being in denial of the fact that along the way we will repeatedly fail in our attempts. C.S. Lewis wrote, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good”. But as someone said, our failure is not a disgrace unless we make it the last chapter of our book. 

We will stumble in our efforts to be Christlike but when we do, our response must be to run to Jesus, to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. In his humanity, Jesus was tempted. He experienced hunger, thirst, anger, distress and sorrow. Therefore, he expects nothing less from us, that is when we come to him, we do so as authentic disciples, imperfect, flawed and broken but being transformed at the same time (read Heb 4:14-16). So, be kind to yourself!

Grow our faith in your Lord!