Must we 'hate' our mother, father?
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday Sept. 9, 2001
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
True or false? (1) If you want to love Jesus, you must hate the members of your family. (2) Family members who hate you are just being Christian.
These are trick questions. But next Sunday more than one eyebrow will raise at the first line of the Gospel (Luke 14:25-33): "If you come to me without hating father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, and even your own life, you cannot be my disciple." If that were the only sentence you knew Jesus spoke, you'd have to answer "true" to the trick questions.
But Jesus said a few other things about human relationships. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies, for pity's sake. Love one another. It is not likely he meant to eliminate love for family.
Some people try to resolve the dilemma by blaming whoever translated this verse from Greek into English. Did the translator choose the wrong word for what Jesus said? The lectionary in the United States was revised just a few years ago, and not everyone likes the results. Might a different word have captured better what Jesus said?
Perhaps. But even the Greek uses the word "hate." Luke used the word several times. The same word appears in 1:71 to describe how enemies feel. It reappears in 6:27 where Jesus says love your enemies and be good to those who hate you. In Matthew's version of next Sunday's Gospel (10:37), Jesus uses a softer expression, denouncing those who "love others more" than they love him. But Luke wrote "hate."
Still, we need not let the translator off the hook. The Greek of Jesus' day drew from a comparatively restricted vocabulary. We have more words in today's English than they had in ancient Greek. We also have more fabrics, colors, scents, and shoes. To translate the same Greek word with the English word "hate" may be consistent, but the same word bore more shades of meaning in Jesus' day than our word does today.
Even so, it must be admitted that the word Jesus uses is strong. His point is that good disciples will prefer nothing to him.
If this saying makes you think twice about discipleship, the rest of the Gospel offers no relief. Jesus compares discipleship to carrying a cross. Then he tells two parables about the same theme.
These parables are unique to Luke's Gospel. The first concerns a builder who must calculate the cost of a tower before starting construction. The second concerns one king waging war against another. If his enemy has more troops, he'd better send a delegation to ask for terms of peace. If you don't have what it takes to finish, better not get started. If you want to finish, plan ahead how you can do it.
Be ready to renounce family, Jesus says in the opening of next Sunday's Gospel. Be ready to renounce possessions, he concludes. If your child disputes an accusation of wrongdoing, and if you impulsively defend your kid no matter the evidence, or go shopping to relieve the stress, Jesus has a few words for you next week.
If the Gospel sounds harsh, you may enjoy the lighter fare from next Sunday's second reading (Philemon 9-10, 12-17).
The text is a real curiosity: the shortest book of the New Testament. Among the letters attributed to St. Paul in the Bible, scholars dispute the authenticity of about half of them. But this little snatch of a letter has most everyone agreeing that it comes directly from the hand of Paul.
On Sundays, we hear excerpts from all the New Testament epistles over the course of a three-year cycle of readings. Due to the brevity of Philemon, we hear from it only once. Enjoy it. You won't hear this letter again until Labor Day weekend of 2004.
The saga presumes that Paul got to know Philemon on a missionary journey and stayed with him long enough to befriend Philemon's slave Onesimus. Some time later, Paul was imprisoned in another city. Meanwhile, Onesimus ran away from Philemon. The slave tracked down Paul in jail, and Paul decided to help him out by making an appeal to Philemon to welcome Onesimus back, not as a slave but as a brother.
So Paul writes out this letter on parchment, the autograph copy of one of the books of the bible, and hands it through prison bars to a runaway slave. It's a beautiful story of friendship, trust, and freedom.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. Munchin Parish, Cameron.