Jesus attracts a huge following on his long journey from Galilee through Samaritan territory and on to Jerusalem. On the journey, he teaches relentlessly about the ways of God. The crowd has thinned considerably by the time he faces death in the city. Is this because it is all too hard to follow through on their initial impulse to follow the way of the gospel and the one who embodies its values? Most people want to be faithful to the commitments they make. Most know that one choice will preclude another. Such people work out their priorities and live with the consequences. Others take on a commitment and fail to meets its demands. There are some who even betray the trust that comes with commitments made.
In the context of the Roman Empire, criminals who were sentenced to die by crucifixion carried to the place of execution the cross beam on which they would hang. Implicit, therefore, in the teaching about carrying one’s cross is a reminder of the intense pain and sacrifice involved in living the way of the gospel, in being a disciple. It sometimes means going against what other family members might want. It may even involve putting one’s life on the line for the sake of others. The cross image is shocking for anyone. It is quite alienating for the faint-hearted.
The term ‘hate’ ( misein) seems harsh. The English translation fails to do justice to the original Greek or the Hebrew that underlies this biblical notion. To ‘hate’ in biblical terms is to ‘leave aside’. Disciples are expected to love one another. There are times, however, when they have to ‘leave aside’ the wishes of those they love most for the sake of a gospel call to justice and right relationship. There is also a call to ‘leave aside’ unnecessary possessions. In a time of planetary pollution and of growing division between the privileged and the poor, the teaching of the Lukan Jesus has a particular resonance. There is no place for self-indulgence or exploitation of others or of the goods of the earth in a gospel way of life.