Someone contacted me the other day with a question. Here is part of their message (slightly modified):
It appears in Luke 14:25–27 that Jesus is considering that the women present are not worth considering, or not worth including in teaching. He seems to be only addressing the men in the crowd by saying “wife” and not “husband”. Can you please address this?
Here’s the passage in question.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25–27 (NIV) cf. Matthew 10:37.
And here’s what I wrote back.
There is little doubt that the large crowd (v. 25) that was following Jesus included women as well as men.
While women don’t have wives (well they didn’t in the first century), both men and women, generally speaking, have a father and a mother, and brothers and sisters (v. 26). So I don’t think we can say that Jesus is addressing only men simply because he mentions wives but not husbands. I would say that the six kinds of relatives listed—father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—means that, potentially, no one is left out.
For example, even though I don’t have a biological brother or a wife, I have a father, mother, children, and a sister. Other people may not have children or may not have siblings. Still other people may not have parents who are living. But hopefully, we have at least some family members who are listed by Jesus, which makes his teaching both vivid and personal.
There may, however, have been some in the crowd who had none of the near relations that Jesus mentions, but the principle of loving Jesus more than all others, even more than one’s own life, still applies.
One important point to notice is that Jesus’ words in Luke 14:25–27 and in Matthew 10:37 assume that it is the norm for mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, as well as male relatives, to be loved. Notice also that in Matthew 10:34–39—which corresponds with Luke 14:25–27, and includes a prophecy from Micah 7:6— the couples are gender-paired equally. But I’m not concerned that Luke did not present Jesus’ teaching with precisely equal gender-pairs.
Sandra Glahn was recently asked an almost identical question to the one I received. I think she may be onto something when she suggests that Jesus may be quoting from a well-known saying “created by someone else from a strictly male point of view.”
Sandra goes on,
His listeners were probably used to hearing, ‘love father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister,’ so Jesus shocks them by saying to hate father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister in comparison to how much they love him. Doubtless that got their attention, just like it still grabs ours all these centuries later.” (Source: Aspire2.com)
No matter what relatives we may or may not have, Jesus’ main point to the men and to the women in the crowd is this: “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (v.27). We mustn’t lose sight of this message. This is the challenge for us all.
Postscript: March 3, 2023
No “husband” in Luke 18:29
Someone asked me today about Luke 18:29 which also doesn’t mention husbands.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God” (NIV).
While I think Jesus is probably using an andro-centric expression known to first-century Jewish people, as in Luke 14:25–27, it makes sense that husbands are not mentioned in this verse.
Jesus’s words in Luke 18:29 are spoken to Peter (a man) in reply to Peter’s remark, “we have left what we had and followed you.” And his remark was made after the encounter with the rich young ruler (a man). Peter had left a house, a wife, probably some siblings, parents, and perhaps children to follow Jesus around Galilee and Judea.
Furthermore, Peter is often a spokesperson for the Twelve. What he says usually reflects what the Twelve were thinking. And the Twelve were all men. Jesus was addressing only men here, so he doesn’t mention leaving husbands. Women simply aren’t present and part of this conversation.
It would have been much harder for a woman to leave her husband and children to follow Jesus than it would have been for a man. Still, it does look like some (many?) women did just that (e.g., Joanna, Luke 8:1–3). And we have more evidence of Christian women leaving their families, including husbands and children, in the second and subsequent centuries.
Also, a less gendered statement from Jesus in the same story recorded in Mark’s Gospel is in Mark 10:29.
Jesus had many female followers—many!
The Apostolic Ministry of Gospel Women
Male-Female Pairs and Parallelism in Luke’s Gospel
Partnering Together: Jesus and Women
Female Martyrs and their Ministry in the Early Church