Really, did Jesus say we should –no must–hate in order to be a disciple? That cannot be right. God is love. Hating isn’t nice. In a world waiting to retaliate against Syria, in a world where tyrants use chemical weapons against their own people, in a world where it is so hard to hold a marriage together, a congregation together, a nation together, haven’t we gorged on hate enough? Come on, let’s pull out the Greek and do some magic with this text so that it doesn’t say what I dread that it says. Let’s check the versions, let’s get out the manuscript evidence and read those microscopic footnotes. JEEZ-us it is so easy to find someone to hate in this world, that I have to hear you encourage it? Don’t you know this is my secret besotting sin? Don’t you know that some of us spend a lifetime trying to let go of every injury and insult we have endured at the hands of those who are mother and father, sister and brother, spouse or child, or someone who claims to have loved us? ? Don’t you know that some of us need enough hate to protect ourselves to ensure we will never let THAT happen to us again? I know I have. So Jesus, I really need to have misheard you say “Whoever comes to me and does note hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters….and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Don’t you know how hard I have struggled to overcome self-hatred, hating even my own life? Don’t you know how much women have been taught to be self-sacrificing and self-hating and self-mutilating? You were there, so don’t you tell me you don’t know, Mister. So we better get clear here, you and I. Did you mean “hate” or “something like hate that isn’t hate after all?” Is this a bunch of Palestinian hyperbole? And if you DID say “hate” then just tell me why nice little boys and girls grow up being told that Christians don’t hate and are supposed to love everybody?
Oh dear. Did I say something wrong? The room just became awfully quiet.
Ahem. Consulting the social science commentaries here. Hmmm. Early Christianity was frequently accused of atheism and of undermining good family values. The Way was sure to undermine patriarchy, marriage, respect for the ancestors and even the economy (if that Prodigal Son affair gets too much promotion.) Hmmm. We’ve come a long way. No one much boasts that Christianity could be dangerous to your family values. So maybe what Jesus said about hating family isn’t true anymore because we have better families now, and the Prodigal Son thing was a one time gig, and we’re sure he never disappointed his father again, because now he knows how to assume personal responsibility like the rest of us good sons and daughters.
Maybe we just don’t mean the same thing by “hate.” There’s hate, as in that deep reptilian aversion in my animal brain that couples with the hormones that drive the fight or flight impulse, and then there’s hate, like how distasteful coffee can be when pregnant or going through chemotherapy. Did Jesus mean hate, or just mostly hate, or something like it?
Nothing snarls and entangles like love. It’s blind, they say. You don’t know what you’re opening yourself up to when you really love. You give away a piece of yourself and that makes you vulnerable, compromised. Just ask anyone who has had to detangle love through divorce, separating, leaving. Just ask anyone who has held their newborn in awe and wonder. If love entangles, hate keeps everything neat. It adds a note of caution to love and questions whether what you love merits the trouble. What Jesus says next makes it really clear: a king about to go to war calculates the cost.
Does God hate? Well, yes. God hates as perfectly as God loves, however. God hates our sacrifices with impure hearts. God hates nothing God has made, but God has to distance God’s self from what is not godly and good for what God loves. I can’t love perfectly. I certainly can’t hate perfectly. I wind up loving those who hurt me. I wind up hating those who love me yet entangle me. I’m not God.
What if we can remove evil from hate? What if we can remove ourselves from the power of the past, all our entanglements of love that look like hate and hate that we think of as love? What if our options were not limited by mother, father, sister, brother? What if the cross we pick up is Jesus’ cross, the one that overcomes sin and death and sets us free? What if “hating” meant to separate ourselves from what separates us from God, from what encodes self centeredness, (or self-hatred,) fear (or arrogant certainty) vengeance (or passivity) in our DNA? What if “hating” meant to forgive–as in to let go of, to release, to be rid of? Perfect hate begins to look like perfect love on the cross. But then again, I’m not God.