Luke 14.26 reports Jesus Christ as saying: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
How can I hate my mother and father, who gave me life, raised me, and made sacrifices for me? How can I hate my wife after I married her because I love her? How can I hate my children when I have a duty to love and care for them?
A solution to this seeming endorsement of hatred, which is contrary to many other verses of Scripture, is found in the Second Sermon on the Song of Songs preached by the church father Origen in the early AD 240s. Origen was the most outstanding Bible scholar, teacher, and preacher of the first half of the third century, and influenced the church for centuries afterwards.
Origen preached that God really does want Christians to love their fathers, mothers, wives, children, and other relatives, but He wants us to love Jesus even more. Origen preached that it is a matter of setting our priorities in order. A Christian’s first priority must always be Christ. We are indeed obliged to love our close relatives, but we must not be consumed by love for them, but put our affections in correct order. We must not love father, mother, etc. first, and Christ afterwards. Christians must not be consumed by love of children at the expense of love of Jesus.
Origen quoted Matthew 10.7, the parallel passage to Luke 14.16, to show that, rather than advocating general hatred and ingratitude, Christ wanted merely an ordering of priorities: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Here it is “love less”, not “hate”.
Origen then exhorted his listeners to examine their consciences and compare their relationships and priorities in order to determine whether they had more love for their earthly relatives than for the Lord himself.
In cases of conflict, and only in cases of conflict, Jesus and Origen taught that we must hate our families if the only alternative is not loving Christ.