“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
Jesus keeps trying to talk the crowds out of following him! Hate your family? Hate your life? What kind of seeker friendly operation is he running here? Doesn't he know you have to draw people in and then sort out the rest later? It's about reaching the masses, Jesus! Or... maybe we have it wrong in modern Christianity...
Massive crowds follow Jesus because of his healing, his teaching, and because it's the best show around at the time. Some are true followers, some are considering it, some are completely against it, and some are just there to see what happens.
Is Jesus contradicting verses such as Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 5:21-6:4 where we are instructed to honor our parents, love our families, and consider our family member's needs above our own? Hate seems like a very unchristian thing to do when Jesus says in John 13:35 that onlookers will know we are his disciples by our love.
"Hate" here expresses preference. In Malachi 1:2-3 (quoted in Romans 9:13) God says "Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated." This doesn't mean God had Esau's face on some heavenly dartboard. It means God gave his promise through Jacob, not Esau, showing his preference for the younger brother. It was also a Semitic expression used as a way to refer to loving someone less, as in Jacob loving Rachel more than Leah. His feelings are described as hating Leah, but clearly he had some feelings for her.
If we are to be true disciples, we are to love the Lord with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. If family relationships conflict with what the Holy Spirit wants us to do, the Holy Spirit wins out. We must be willing to give up everything - all our possessions, our relationships, even our own lives. When Jesus gives similar instructions in Mark 10 he mentions that anyone who gives up family will receive a hundred times more in the present age, not to mention eternal life. This refers to the family we receive in the body of Christ.
Christians rarely experience true persecution in America. In other countries and religions, turning to Christianity can result in shunning, torture, or execution. Some in America are excluded by families when they convert. Some Americans might experience tension and misunderstandings with family members when they choose to follow Christ, and this should not be trivialized.
The Greek word translated carry, bastazo, means to take up in order to carry or bear, to put upon one's self or to bear what is burdensome. Bearing a cross indicates a willingness to suffer ridicule, pain, and suffering. It is a willingness to put one's life on the line if necessary. Carrying your cross to crucifixion was a mark of an outcast, an extreme criminal. To cling to Christ, you can hold on to nothing else.
In the days before bank loans and mortgages, it would be extremely foolish to begin a building project without securing the means to complete the project. Even today it is unwise to build a building without a plan to finish the building and repay any debts. Anyone seeing the incomplete project will shake their head at best and ridicule you at worst. Likewise, one who will be a true disciple of Christ you must be willing to complete the mission given to him. Many will begin the journey only to find they were the seed sown in shallow ground. Even if we never experience persecution of any kind, we must be willing in advance to suffer anything and give up everything if necessary.
Then he said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." - Luke 9:23-24