The Gospel reading the other day at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson was the well-known passage in which Jesus makes his stern statement about all of us "hating" our families and even our own lives, in order to be up to the task of following him. I must admit that the passage bothered me for many years. In fact, I doubt that Jesus even said it. However, early Christians were influenced (for the worse) by Neo-Platonism by the time the Gospel According to Luke was written, and the self-hating, life-hating Platonic philosophy explains the sentiment as far as I am concerned.
Even though Jesus, in the opinion of many scholars, probably did not hold the sentiments expressed in Luke (they are completely un-Jewish), the quotation persists in Scripture readings. But one year I came to a realization that this quote is almost a joke--not at all a prescription of how to live. However, it runs like this:
“If people come to me and are not ready to abandon their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as their own lives, they cannot be my disciples." [Luke 14:26]
That is the most charitable translation I could find online, which doesn't use the word "hate," as you see. But what makes it almost a joke is that those who actually try to live a Christian life find just the opposite. As you move closer into Christianity and learn to grow in your spiritual life, as you feel anger and hatred subside from your consciousness, your love for your family and friends doubles and triples until you love them more than you ever did.
At the same time, those whose lives abound in Christian love feel that as their real love grows, their neediness and impulses to control or exploit others falls away from their emotions. As C. S. Lewis wrote about Christianity, there is no other way to experience this phenomenon other than simply to do it. Lewis writes to the effect that God's demand is: give me all of yourself and keep nothing back. Do this and I will give you everything in return. Lewis puts it that we give up everything except Jesus, but we get Jesus himself, and everything else thrown in.
Once you feel even the first hints of this experience, it is, as Lewis says, like water in the desert. The tremendous relief that comes with "the peace of God that passeth understanding" is something that not all Christians know. And the reason that many people who call themselves Christians do not possess this peace is because they are not practicing the Christian faith. They may think they are, they may say they are, they may make continual, shrill denunciations of those who do not believe as they believe, but they are not "practicing" the Christian faith.
That is why I am never tempted to join an evangelical denomination. They wear their hatred on their sleeves like a badge of honor, proud that they hate such a long list of things and people. This is not the exercise of Christian faith; our faith compels us to give anything, even our lives, on behalf of our enemies. We are to pray for their good and seek to serve them. Where do we see that in the Religious Right?
Some pastors are fond of saying that they hate the sin but love the sinner. This is simply not true if you listen to the words of well-known evangelical "leaders." They heartily hate the President and the LGBT community, among other things, without the slightest shame or hesitancy. They get involved in the internal politics of countries in places like Uganda in the hopes that they can bring about yet more persecution of LGBT individuals even outside of our country. I don't care if they call themselves disciples of Mother Theresa--it is crystal clear to even the most casual observer that they are possessed by hate and anger and that Jesus is nowhere near them.
And so when Jesus urges us--supposedly--to abandon our families, it is like an inside joke. The reality of becoming a Christian is just the opposite! There is nothing more serene and united than a circle of friends and family who share the love of Christ towards each other. You can see it at St. Michael's on Sundays at the Spanish Mass. There is no hate there, nor talk of hate towards others. On the contrary, some of our parishioners relate how members of their family who profess evangelical Christianity persecute or disown them because they do not conform. We support each other and help everyone to get through the hard times--hard times that would not occur in the first place if people who call themselves Christians actually practiced the Christian faith.