Hating Father and Mother: Jesus’ Advice for Family Conflict

Father & Mother

This is the message I gave on January 6, 2013 at Camas Friends Church. It is based on Luke 14:26-27:

“Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Think of all the many ways that conflict arises within family. It seems that just about any can cause conflict, but especially things like religion, political beliefs, job and lifestyle choices, and other ways that we might try to set ourselves apart from the group.

When we come to family conflict, we don’t often really know what to do with it. Sometimes we just go along, not wanting to “rock the boat.” Or sometimes we hope that by ignoring it, it will just go away. But dirt swept under the rug overtime will, if not dealt with, become a huge mound in the middle of the living that someone is bound to trip over.

What if I told you Jesus has the answer to all of these problems? Jesus outlined through his teachings how to mitigate family conflict. Unfortunately, it’s not what you might expect.

Jesus’ Family Politics

Here’s the good news and bad news: Jesus says the answer is that you’ve got to hate you family. Short and sweet. Maybe for some of us, the path to discipleship just got a whole lot easier.

But before we wash our hands of the whole thing. Let’s look a little closer.

Let’s think about Jesus’s own life for a minute. He’s not exactly the poster boy for the “family values” movement. I mean – mom got pregnant out of wedlock, he’s raised by a step-dad, in a poor part of the empire. Then, when he starts his preaching career – he doesn’t settle down in the parsonage but packs his tunic and favorite pair of sandals and walks out the door, traveling thousands of miles through Middle-Eastern dessert. And never looks back. He even has the nerve to say that like all other prophets, he’s not welcome in his hometown! (We’d prefer you not broadcast that point Jesus).

And if those things weren’t enough — mr. too-big for his britches — has some pretty harsh things to say that I don’t think his mother was too happy to hear.

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26–27 NRSV)

Just a slip up that Luke caught.

Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me (Matt. 10: 37-39).

These are hard words that tempt us to explain them away. And these aren’t the only ones. Matthew 10, Matthew 23, Jesus says more about this.

One of the troubling things here is that Jesus is not being a very good bible teacher here: “Don’t you know what Moses wrote in stone Jesus? I always was taught by my mother and father that the fourth commandment was not an option: honor your father and mother. Now you’re saying to hate them.”
But what Jesus is talking about within the context of saying this to his small band of disciples in the first century is something like:

“Look, I know you’ve got a lot to lose here. I want you to walk into this eyes-wide-open and know what you’re getting yourself into. The way of life that I will lead you in will cost you relationships, even those close and dear. It will cost you prestige. Even worse than that, it could cost you followers on Facebook. In other words, this will cost you your life.”

I think what Jesus is do normalizing the difficult road that truly following his way of love and nonviolence in the world is going to be.

He is saying, “I get it. This is a radical discipleship I am calling you to, but it is worth it. Conflicts of all kinds, and yes, even within the family, will emerge if you are to take my teachings seriously.”

And then when we apply this to the topic of conflict within families we see that there is an even more universal application.

Jesus’ statement about hating family should be understood as the necessary steps for what it takes to be become whole and live undivided lives. If we are ever to truly come to stand on our own two feet, to follow the path that Christ has laid out for us, to “pick up our cross” so to speak, then there has to be a break from the home base. This is because the journey towards wholeness is often a threat to the family unit that has learn to manage dysfunctions and adapted roles to reflect that. Changing course, or people challenging that dysfunction is often too difficult to assimilate into the group and so it is rejected.

Richard Rohr puts it this way:

One of the major blocks against the second journey is what we would now call the “collective,” the crowd, our society, or our extended family. Some call it the crab bucket syndrome – you try to get out, but the other crabs just keep pulling you back in. What passes for morality or spirituality in the vast majority of people’s lives is the way everybody they grew up with thinks. Some would call it conditioning or even imprinting. Without very real inner work, most folks never move beyond it.

 You might get beyond it in a negative sense, by reacting or rebelling against it [using various methods of escape],but it is much less common to get out of the crab bucket in a positive way. That is what we want here. Jesus uses quite strong words to push us out of the family nest and to name a necessary suffering at the most personal, counterintuitive and sentimental level possible (Rohr 83).

And this is what Jesus wants, he wants us to get out of the crab bucket in a positive way. To become our own person, to stand on our own two feet, so that we can then as “fishers of men” help other crabs out of the bucket as well.

Jesus’ strong words reflect just how hard it is to get out of the bucket. That is why it is so well-stocked with pathologies and conflictual issues.

The Loyal Soldier and the Faithful Betrayal

Let’s put this into another image. When conflict arises within the family we are given a choice are we going to be loyal or are we going to betray?

In conflict, two roles often arise: the loyal soldier or the one who “faithfully betrays.”

For many of us as soon as we begin to try and step out on our own, or “self-differentiate” as they say we hear words like: Are you going to be the loyal soldier again? Fall back into line, play the role you’ve been assigned, adjust back to the family beliefs and values, keep quiet about this family secret, go along with the way the rest of us are living, or are you going to step out of line? Are you going to be a traitor and let us down? Are you going to be the one to abandon us?

The loyal soldier in all of us is very powerful.

But in order for that path to be cleared, the “loyal soldier” must become more like a conscientious objector – who knows his or her limits and is willing to take a stand even if it is scorned by the majority of the family.

The voice of the loyal soldier can be so loud it can often sound like the Lord Jesus himself saying it. Especially when it comes out of the mouths of people who you know love you.

Are you going to be the loyal soldier or are you going to betray your family?

Then there are Jesus’ words:

Son will be pitted against Father.
Daughter against Mother.
Brother against sister

In other words, Jesus quietly tells us that the cost of wholeness is to break rank. It is to refuse to play the roles that have been so destructive in your life. It is to refuse to go along with the game. It is to accept that you no longer need validation from the family in order to be who you were meant to be.

The path towards the cross is a path of necessary suffering that leads to overflowing life.

The path towards your own wholeness is willing to leave the securities (real or imagined) of home.

Richard Rohr says that all the great spiritual teachers reject the “Don’t leave home without it” mentality, and instead their motto seems to be you have to “Leave home to find it!”

And he adds, “of course, they were never primarily talking just about physical home, but about all the validations, securities, illusions, prejudices, smallness – and hurts too – that home and family always imply” (84).

Jesus calls his disciples to a “faithful betrayal.” A leaving home to find home. A taking with you what you have, but setting out – as Frodo does in the Lord of The Rings – to become who you already authentically are.

The path towards wholeness always begins first within yourself and then works outward towards family, friends, and world.

The path towards wholeness means that we must hate father and mother, sister and brother, so that one day we may return whole and truly and authentically love.

The path towards wholeness accepts Jesus’ way as the formation of a new family. A family not based on blood, or validations, prejudices, securities or illusions. A family not threatened by identity, perspective, career, lifestyle or what lies within your past. It is secure within this diversity because it is rooted in the love of God that father, the one who created you, the one who loves you beyond all love and the one who wants to see you become who you already are.