What’s all this love/hate stuff?

So Jesus said I couldn’t hate my brother, but I have to hate mother, father, brother, and sister in order to follow him? And even God talks about loving Jacob and hating Esau – seems like a double-standard to me. And for goodness’ sake, Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah – what kind of messed-up families are we being shown here!?

Let’s step back a moment and talk about the words translated love and hate. We’ll start earliest with Jacob and Rachel. In that story, Jacob works for seven years in order to marry Rachel because of the most romantic “love at first sight” story ever written – he moved a gigantic rock to prove his love. And he watered an entire flock, much like his mother had done, but isn’t that rock thing impressive! So, wedding night comes, Jacob’s probably had a little wine, and the happy couple slips off for some alone time. Next morning, Jacob wakes up, and the Bible’s own words say it best, “And, look, it was Leah!” Talk about a rough morning after. Long story short, Jacob ends up marrying both sisters with the Bible saying, “Jacob loved Leah, and also loved Rachel… more than Leah.” Cue miserable groan from audience.

Genesis goes on to describe Leah as being “hated.” The word used here is literally “loved less,” but not being the chosen one can leave a body feeling hated. Leah lived her whole life craving attention from the man she loved, but who loved her with a much cooler passion than he did her sister. So, here, being loved more means being favored, while being hated doesn’t rule out love, it’s a just the lover has made a choice to divide his love unequally.

Later, the prophet will write, speaking for God, “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated.” There was quite a bit of animosity between Edom (Esau’s descendants) and Israel (Jacob’s descendants.) God, curiously, though, lists in the Law for Israelites not to despise or mistreat an Edomite, because of the distant relationship of their ancestors. In this case, Jacob was chosen as the bearer of the Covenant, not Esau, but that didn’t mean Esau wasn’t loved. God chose Jacob and his descendants to be the instrument through which God showed Himself to the world. Edom could easily benefit from that, as long as Israel lived out the laws of compassion and justice set out by God.

Which brings us to Jesus. When he says, “don’t hate a brother” he actually means, don’t wish him ill harm or trouble. Love is a choice that includes looking out for someone else’s best interest, at all times. But what about hating my parents? Well, Jesus is using the word translated “hate” in the sense of the first two cases. He still assumes we will continue loving our family and looking out for their best interest, but Jesus wants us to be willing to put God first, to love Him more. In this case, picking God first doesn’t mean loving our family any less, in fact, it means we love them more, and fiercely as we learn what it means to love others like God loves us.

When God picks someone, he doesn’t pick them to separate them out, he picks them to go into the world and be His image, His messenger. The Israelites were given land smack dab in the middle of a bunch of empires that could have used God’s wisdom and direction. The prophets were sent into the cities to call the people and their rulers to task for their injustice. Christians were told not to pull out, but to “go and make disciples.” Being chosen means being sent. Being loved means loving more. God’s love isn’t exclusionary, it’s big enough for everyone.

How do your priorities show who or what you love? What does your schedule say about what’s important in your life?

This post was inspired and directed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s recent book Not In God’s Name as well as his essays in Covenant and Conversation: Genesis: the Book of Beginnings. Check them out if this post interested or helped you.

Photo Credit: Love Hate Logo.png via Wikimedia Commons

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