One would think when Jesus proclaimed loving one another as the end all that this includes family members. Jesus said accepting Him is the same as accepting children who are often the most innocent and vulnerable in our society. Jesus encouraged marriage for a lifetime for a reason (Mk. 10:9). Who doesn’t know love isn’t kicking partners to the curb to enjoy your current fantasy whether in marriage, business, or friendship. There are innocent parties and the guilty with regrets. Jesus tells it straight but is not in the condemnation business. Jesus only encouraged the adulterous woman to leave a life of self-destruction for her own good (Jn. 8:11).
Jesus though seemed to imply other times that family is not important, that one cannot choose both family and God. See passages referenced here. Jesus says: “…..I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a main against his father, a daughter against her mother… (Mt. 10: 34-35). Did Jesus deny those who wanted to follow Him the right to bury their own family members (Mt. 8:21-22, Lk. 9:59-60)? Jesus even suggested that we can’t love Him unless we hate our own family (Lk. 14:25-26). Did God create family in the beginning and then demand we choose God over loved ones?
These were extraordinary times. The Messiah predicted for over a thousand years was here. God had come in person to lay down his life to influence the world for its own good. The context advises of dangerous times ahead for those who follow Jesus as His death was imminent: “as the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven” (Lk. 9:51). Jesus wasn’t encouraging to purposely hate your family, but family members can turn on each other. Jesus desired peace as He rebuked the disciples for requesting Jesus use special powers to destroy the enemy (Lk. 9:55). It is others sometimes who don’t desire peace. Why not just let the lunatic’s message peter out. Who was harmed? But, the religious turned on their own and insisted Jesus be killed for claiming to be the Messiah. Some today turn to new spiritual beliefs, while advocating the freedom of beliefs of others, but family members treat them as outcasts or even seek their death.
Jesus surely wasn’t insisting one not bury their family member. The man asking Jesus about following Him was outside and not in mourning (Lk.9:57). His dad was likely healthy but waiting around for family to die in years ahead can interfere with one’s spiritual calling. Jesus possibly had in mind a secondary burial. In biblical times the bones were reburied in a box in a slot in the tomb’s wall a year after the initial burial (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Craig S. Keener, p.68). It isn’t always dishonoring to leave parents to make the world a better place as Jesus and His disciples did. Today, parents for selfish reasons may not encourage children to follow worthwhile passions. Jesus clearly supported the commandment to honor your father and mother (Lk. 18:20). Jesus didn’t contradict future disciples such as Timothy who advised not providing for your own family opposes God’s desires (I Tim 5:8). Balance and judgment is required if one’s spiritual calling interferes with their family calling.
Jesus was pro-family as loving your neighbor surely meant loving your family members. But, some families put their members in a position that they will have to choose God or them. Jesus had to leave His family without their full support. Many may courageously leave family to protect freedoms for their family and others. Jesus’ hard sayings were not meant to take literal always. You can bury your family but family can be our idol and stand in the way of a higher calling. Sometimes, living out Jesus’ message to love your neighbor has extreme costs. Now, husbands often take a wife kicking and screaming because of their supposed calling. God surely makes any calling obvious to both partners. The applications for Jesus’ teachings today are personal and for each to decide. Seek the wisdom of those you trust.