31st Wednesday in Ordinary Time
fter hearing St Paul say, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, it can be very disconcerting to hear Jesus say what sounds like the exact opposite: If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother…and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. This is the same Jesus who, in another place, says, Honor your father and mother. So what does he mean by saying “hate” in today’s Gospel?
My own theory is that here St Luke is translating the words Jesus used, whereas St Matthew translates the meaning of those words. In Aramaic the word “hate” can have the meaning “to love less”, as it does when Jesus said, “No servant can be the slave of two masters, for he will hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second”. That is what St Matthew understood Jesus to be saying, because he translates the saying, No one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me. No one who prefers son or daughter to me is worthy of me.
At the same time, the Hebrew word for hate, saneh, has the sense of “to leave aside, to abandon”, and this connotation may also be present. Jesus is thinking, not of psychological hatred of father or mother, but of renunciation, leaving aside lesser loves for a greater, preferring God to any human being.
This does not mean that we should have no human affections at all, and we can know this from the example of Jesus himself. The Gospels show how deeply he loved his own Mother, and the beloved disciple, and the family at Bethany. But his affections were what St Bernard would call “an ordered love”, and when he had to take leave of all those whom he loved so dearly, he himself said what he had taught his disciples to say, Thy will be done.
So we are not straying in any way from God by loving our father and mother. On the contrary, we would be going against his will if we acted otherwise. Jesus is not saying that we should suppress or limit our affection for others, but only that we should direct it, giving God the priority in every case. If we do that, then our affections become lawful and a source of sanctification for us. They serve to raise us up to God, who wants us to call him “Our Father”.
Jesus himself confirmed this interpretation when he said at that first Eucharist, “By this shall everyone know that you ar my disciples: if you have love for one another”.