37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
France notes, “Because of the division which Jesus provokes within families (vv. 34–36), true discipleship may bring a conflict of loyalties, and in that case, following Jesus must take precedence over the natural love of family (the Greek word is phileō, natural affection, not agapaō, the loving commitment which is a Christian characteristic). The Christian may even have to leave his family (19:29). The Lucan parallel (Luke 14:26) calls for ‘hatred’ of the family, but Matthew’s version correctly interprets this Semitic idiom (cf. Gen. 29:31; Deut. 21:15; Mal. 1:2–3) as an expression of prior loyalty or of choice rather than of actual dislike. Jesus calls not for an unloving attitude, but for a willingness to put him first in the concrete situation where the calls of Jesus and of family conflict.”
The “loss” of family is bad enough, but there is also another cost that might be required of the disciples. What is interesting is that all the while Jesus is warning the disciples of the rough times that lay ahead, much of Matthew 9 described the mission of Jesus as a spectacular success. It is natural to think that the disciples expected their mission, in His Name, to be as spectacular. It is though from “left field” that Jesus then introduces the imagery of the cross. There is no soothing image or metaphor for the cross. The cross in the sign of Roman domination and the power over an occupied people. To take up one’s cross is the description of a death sentence being implemented.
The disciple is asked to place aside his or her own inclinations and interests, as well as those of the natural family, in order to truly follow Jesus. To give up the life one once held (even unto death) is the path to find the life that if truly worth living.