“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” (v26). I have often wondered how the folks at Focus On The Family interpret this passage. Jesus seems to be in total contradiction to our 21st century familial ties and priorities. How are we to read this command of Jesus and remain faithful to this rather stringent picture of discipleship? As it is with every passage, we must read it in context of the author's continuing narrative.
In 12:1, we read that this large crowd was so zealous in following Jesus that they were “trampling one another.” It is likely that this same sort of zeal still defines the crowd in chapter 14. They have witnessed all the marvelous things Jesus has been doing which only adds to their zeal and delight over him (13:17). Having encountered leaders with great charisma in our own lives, it is easy to consider how these miracles and wonders of Jesus shaped the perspective of those who followed him above anything else. We must not forget that not only has Jesus’ integrity and identity been called into question (9:51-56; 11:14-23), but he is heading towards even more conflict and even death in Jerusalem as he has already predicted (9:21-27, 44-50). It is clear to the reader that the journey for those who follow Jesus will be filled with a lot more than just miracles and wonder. Has the crowd taken this conflict and the goal of the cross into consideration? Jesus does not seem to think so.
The Greek phrase we translate to “and does not hate” (kai ou misei) refers to deciding towards a particular loyalty rather than prioritizing affection. The shocking connotation of the word “hate” needs to be read through the lens of hyperbole rather than as a literal command. Dr. David Neale rightfully suggests that we need to read this passage in context with 12:52-53. “That text is shaped by Deut 13:6-11. One who performed wonders was to be rejected if his orthodoxy was suspect. Those in the family of this 'deceiver' were to be the first to take up opposition and stone the offender. This would include even the son, daughter, spouse, or intimate friend. This may represent the actual experience of Jesus and his disciples.”  Those who follow Jesus must be loyal to him first and foremost. Jesus expects such undivided loyalty to shape even their most intimate human relationships in the face of opposition, especially when their family and friends may be the ones to accuse him of being a deceiver. Such accusations should not be taken lightly given that the very Greek word used by the gospel writers for "slanderous, accusing falsely” is “devil” (διάβολος). Simply put, for disciples to not learn how to “hate” such accusations, even from those closest to us, may mean the difference between loyalty to the devil over loyalty to Christ.
It is important to note that Jesus directs this stringent call for discipleship not only to the 12 but to everyone in the crowd. This call to discipleship then is not only for those who we consider to be the “spiritual marines” among us, but for everyone who wishes to be called a disciple of Christ. It is clear that Jesus will not stand for any shred of nominalism among those who follow him. For he knows that nominalism among his followers is simply the evidence that an allegiance besides his call retains their deepest loyalty. Such shallow loyalty crumbles quickly in the face of opposition. Discipleship that cannot stand up in the face of opposition is nominal discipleship, and thus is not discipleship at all.
How then are we to avoid such nominalism? How are we to cultivate such a devout discipleship? Jesus helps us with these questions as well in his analogies of “counting the cost” in verses 28-33. We notice that in both the builder of a tower and the ruler who goes to battle against a force twice the size of his own would be met with humiliation because of poor cost analysis. In the first analogy, the builder’s humiliation would take the form of public ridicule while in the second, the ruler’s humiliation would take the form of an unneeded surrender. Jesus connects these two illustrations by concluding with “in the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple” (v33). If one wishes to be a disciple, one must not only be willing to surrender their possessions but also their most intimate relationships for the sake of Christ. In Luke, Jesus speaks of “disciples” often, but it is only here in this text that the phrase turns singular “my disciple” (v27). If the individual does not count the cost of what it means to take up their own cross with Christ, they risk not only losing their relationship with Christ, but also the community that comprises his body, the church. To for an individual to risk such abandonment by not counting the cost is to ultimately risk humiliating isolation.
It is no secret that our mainstream Christian culture thrives on emotive invitations to follow Jesus. Many Christian groups see large crowds virtually trampling over one another to get to their emotionally invigorating services as a success. Many of the resounding messages we hear from current charismatic Christian leaders is a “call to action.” Be reckless. Be bold. Act now! In such zealous circles, to do anything less then high octane, immediate action seems to communicate a lazy faith. It seems to communicates a loss of wonder and the miraculous. We hear quite a different message from Christ Jesus in his analogies, however. In both his examples, Jesus clearly calls us to sit down and estimate the cost (vv28,31). Sit down? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Our zealous Christian culture tells us we have to be a disciple, and be one now! Jesus, however, would call us to contemplate, to take time to be wise, to sit and count the cost of what it means to follow him. To follow such wise contemplation is to open the door for the disciple to realize not only what they risk losing, but the immensity of what they will gain when they lose their lives to loyally following Christ (17:33). It is no less than inheriting the Kingdom of God.
 Neale, David A. Luke 9-24: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2013. Print. Pg. 128.