If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (NLT)
Jesus said lots of comforting, reassuring things. This saying isn’t one of them. At first glance it seems a monstrous egotistical demand that relegates our deepest human relationships to the sidelines. Are we being commanded to discard our families and simply focus on Jesus? Are we meant to dismiss our personalities and dreams and plans and become some sort of anonymous robot following a demanding tyrant?
Not really. Jesus often overstates a case to make a point. He puts things in very radical terms to have us see what the issues are. Here he is saying that love of him is the overarching love which gives meaning and purpose to every other love in our lives. Including the deepest loves. The one who commanded us to love others is not about to command us to hate those closest to us.
Nor is he trying to reduce us to nonentities. Losing our lives does not mean forsaking our unique identities. It means that all our pursuits and passions in life are to be placed under the umbrella of overall devotion to Jesus.
In other words, make him number one and all else fall into their proper places. Love and devotion to him is the context within which we love others and devote ourselves to living a fulfilling life. Jesus is not speaking of love and hate, but of the right ordering of love itself.