Jesus’ use of ‘hate’

Question: I was recently reading the passage from the New Testament — Luke 14:25-33 — where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters he cannot be my disciple.”

I am shocked by this wording, especially since the Spanish Bible renders it Si alguno viene a mí y no sacrifica el amor (“if anyone comes to me and doesn’t sacrifice the love…”) instead of “hate ... .”

How could Jesus ask us to hate anyone?

Peter Kinghorn, Danville, Calif.

Answer: In this case, the English renders the Greek word miseó (hate) more accurately. Jesus is using a Jewish manner of speaking in which hyperbole (exaggeration) is used to emphasize the point being made.

Jesus is teaching that we are to prefer no one to him and what he commands. However, simply to render it as “prefer” in English would not deliver the full impact of what Jesus says. Thus, the English translators properly retain the literal meaning of “hate.” For Jesus is not merely asking for some preferred place in the world of loyalties and ideas, he is asking for a radical preference. Jesus is not just part of our life, he is our life. The impact of what he is saying is that we must so strongly love and prefer him, that others might think at times that we “hate” them by comparison. Thus, “hate” here does not mean to despise, condemn or harbor grudges. But it is a call for a radical preference that the use of the simple word “prefer” does not capture.

Jesus uses hyperbole as a way of emphasis. We do this a lot in English as well when, for example, we say things like, “There must have been a million people there.”

Happiness of heaven

Question: How can we be happy in heaven knowing that some of our loved ones did not make it there?

Sandy Vignali, Iron River, Mich.

Answer: The happiness of heaven cannot be equated with earthly categories and prerequisites. Exactly how we will be happy in heaven cannot be explained to us here. Scripture describes heavenly happiness as: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

Jesus also cautions the Sadducees, who tried to project the earthly realities of marriage and family into heaven. He said, “You are misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Mt 22:29). In other words, and for our purposes here, we have to admit that our grasp of what heaven is, and how it will be experienced, cannot be reduced to, or explained merely in terms of how we are happy now.

Some have speculated (and it is just speculation) that the happiness of heaven, even despite missing family members, will be possible in light of the deeper appreciation of God’s justice that we will have there. Surely we will concur in heaven with all God’s judgments and in no way incur sorrow on account of them. Hence, we will see that those excluded from heaven are excluded rightly and have really chosen to dwell apart, preferring darkness to light (Jn 3:19). And while it may be mysterious to how this will not cause us sadness, God does in fact teach us that he will wipe every tear from our eyes (see Rv 21:4). 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.