If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.Gospel of Luke
Many theological interpretations of this line in the gospel read it to mean that Jesus is telling us to leave everything behind, give up on our lives entirely, in order to follow him. It sounds a little possessive on his part, like we must somehow love him so much that we grow to hate everything else, and we ought to abandon it (in hatred!) in order to follow him. This is a mis-reading.
While letting go of the quotidian material life in favor of the spiritual is very much part of the teaching, (we see it in a few different places), this line is talking about something else entirely.
What he’s actually saying here is astounding. Real discipleship, the real awakening to spiritual work and implementation of his teachings, doesn’t begin until a person matures to the point of recognizing and admitting his hatred. It is only when a person is ready to open his eyes to the truth of his life, to the hatred he feels, then he is ready to become a disciple.
But how can that be, from the same person who told us to love our neighbor and turn the other cheek? How can Jesus be condoning hatred or requiring it as a pre-requisite?
Hatred itself is merely a cover for deep emotional pain, and for many people it lives under the surface of a fake happiness and idealization. We idealize our families, our partners, our friendships, and while living entirely in those illusions in our minds, we fail to really attend to how those relationships make us feel, in our bodies. We are all conditioned to be happy, and positive, and to proclaim that we love everyone, but that’s merely the social mask we are required to wear. Deeper truths are often more difficult to see or stomach.
When the buried hatred (and the pain underneath it) finally begins to emerge, that is when the awakened spiritual life begins. That is when discipleship begins. That’s the real “coming to Jesus” moment. It requires a willingness to look honestly at one’s life, one’s feelings, and one’s relationships, and in doing so to see the toxic patterns of relating that dominate unconscious unawakened existence. We begin to wrestle with our fears and our pain, with our wounds, and to take personal responsibility for ourselves and our portion of those dynamics. We begin to practice the true art of forgiveness, and compassion, and we open the wellspring of authentic love within ourselves.
And that is precisely the moment (when our pain makes us hate everything and everyone) that the spiritual work begins. That’s when all the teachings begin to really resonate and make sense at depth, and we can hear them with a profound echo across the centuries.