Confucius said he did not quite dare claim that he was a sage.
“ If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple. “
To state as Jesus does in this one verse that one must hate one’s mother… or else one cannot in fact be a disciple of Jesus–this will seem extreme to most people, but especially to anyone in traditional, or else Confucian societies which claim to put a high value upon honor to parents/ancestors. What does this one verse mean? Though it is not so easy to say… paraphrase will not help. It is the difficult sayings which can teach the most just because we are predisposed in a different direction. If Confucian societies are already predisposed to place too high a value upon one virtue, upon honor to parents as a sort of natural religion… then this one verse at least would provide some necessary corrective.
But an even more important meaning to be found in this one verse, and a meaning which I belive is regularly missed by Western Christianity (and which will probably be denied as essential meaning by most theologically educated Western believers) would be that this verse demands a very individual (and democratic) kind of religion/discipleship. Not just hate parents, siblings, spouse, children, but hate one’s own soul. What can this mean?
It seems clear–(to me at least)–that one meaning here is that Chrisitanity is an essentially individual and prophetic religion. It is not merely social or institutional. Can anyone deny, after all, that religion ultimately and essentially will be individual, will depend upon individual responsibility, else it is not genuine religion.
That is, and according to Luke, Jesus never directly advises anyone to join any social-group, nor does he seem to provide any organizational framework to his own loose group of regular followers. And thus on this one day, with large crowds following along, he turns to the crowd and give an existential and essential definition: his religion goes beyond all of one’s closest social relations. Beyond parents, siblings, children. Anyone who wishes to be a follower must first be an individual as distinct from these basic and healthy social relations. And then in addition to this notion that one must first be an individual distinct from family realtions, the next and last step is that one must also give up this self-subsisting if also fundamentally healthy individualism. The final requirement is to hate one’s own soul.
My interpretation would be that this verse means that individualism (of a prophetic kind) is essential and healthy in reliigion, but is ultimately also given up…
Here in Luke Jesus will not ask anyone specifically to deny one’s own soul or self. Nor does he ask that higher allegiance be given up to any external religious entity, that is, church or creed. Allegiance to Jesus and to Christianity will have some costs and requirements as described by other verses in this same chapter, but it is a mistake (and a case of false advertising) to say that Christianity is about group-allegiance, is about joining this or that version of organized-religion. It rather must be quite essentially individual…
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be? My God, no hymne for thee? My soul’s a shepherd too: a flock it feeds Of thoughts, and words, and deeds. The pasture is thy word; the streams, thy grace Enriching all the place. Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers Out-sing the day-light houres. Then we will chide the sunne for letting night Take up his place and right: We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should Himself the candle hold.