Introduction

All four Gospels address the challenges of discipleship, but none of them present the costs as expensively as Luke. In Luke 14:25–33, Jesus enumerates an intentionally provocative but pragmatic list of people and possessions would-be followers must be willing to renounce in order to be his disciples. For many Asian Americans seeking to follow Jesus, the call to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself” (Luke 14:26) strikes a particularly harsh blow to their complex identity as immigrants or children of immigrants.

Hating in the Ancient Mediterranean Context

In the cultural setting of Luke’s readers, where an individual’s self-construal was defined primarily by their family relations, Jesus’s terms for discipleship would have curbed the enthusiasm of bandwagon followers unprepared for the journey ahead to Jerusalem. The verb “hate” (miseō) in Luke 14:26 does not have the affective connotations of the English expression, “I hate you.” Rather, it refers to the deprioritization and disavowal of all commitments to family that compete with or stand in the way of radical obedience to God. Jesus speaks here not as a family hater but as a realist.

Responding to the gospel will inevitably bring about division within his disciples’ households because it requires them to reorient their priorities, values, loyalties, economies, and relationships, and the basis of their self-identity in light of what God is doing in their midst through Jesus’s message and ministry (4:16–21; 9:23–24; 9:59–62; 12:51–53; 14:12–24). Unwavering devotion to kin and investment in the family’s socioeconomic security and status will conflict with the cross that Jesus requires disciples to carry (9:23; 14:27). A disciple must be prepared to cope with the distress of family conflict and even the consequences of civil disobedience, which is why they must soberly count the costs of their decision to follow Jesus (14:28–33).

The Economy of Filiality in the Asian American Household

There is a pervasive immigrant romance or myth that depicts Asian Americans as unquestionably capable of attaining the American Dream by prioritizing family, education, hard work, and sacrifice. This idea fuels the paradigm of Asian Americans as the model minority. The model minority discourse depends largely on the “language of filiality—sacrifice, obedience, hierarchy, gratitude” that is structured by an “economic logic” (Erin Khuê Ninh 2011). This economic logic embedded within the language of filiality is captured in a speech by Korean American Harvard student, Jin Kyu Park, who was the first undocumented immigrant to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship: “I knew early on that my talents were merely a testament to [my parents’] sacrifice—a product of their original dream to secure a better life for me…They were molded by my parent’s labor, shaped by their bowed legs and blistered hands. My talents are indistinguishable from their labor. They are one and the same.” Park’s sentiments reflect how familism—a way of conceptualizing and living out human relationships and responsibilities that prioritizes family before the self, interdependence, and right relationships—shapes one’s identity as an immigrant child.

Following Jesus as an Indebted Son or Daughter

Indebtedness and gratitude go hand in hand for many second-generation Asian Americans. Adult children often feel compelled by guilt and desire to “repay” their immigrant parents who have suffered the loss of family, homeland, or profession either by choice or by necessity. They do this by seeking out higher levels of socioeconomic success through more culturally prestigious employment than their parents could achieve and also by caring for and supporting them in their elder years.

Jesus’s call to deprioritize and disavow one’s family and socioeconomic status as the basis of their identity in Luke 14 is both very challenging and potentially liberating for Asian Americans who, ironically, are the children of those who chose to leave and even renounce their parents and homelands in order to forge a life in the United States. Jesus’s invitation disrupts the cycle of indebtedness that prevents disciples from leaving their familial debts to their parents unpaid. It beckons disciples to forsake the security of the possessions and positions they have long sought to attain for the sake of following Jesus. To carry one’s cross is not a new form of indebtedness but an embrace of the price Jesus paid on his cross that can never be repaid.

The call to discipleship is a challenge to follow Jesus despite the discord it may bring to one’s biological family. That said, Matthew’s parallel account helps clarify that hating one’s family does not mean one cannot “love” (phileō) them (Matt 10:37). What disciples do out of love for God may be perceived by their loved ones as hate; namely, the rejection of their family’s best interests, disobedience to their parents’ wishes, and failure to recognize and repay parental sacrifices. This, for the Asian American Christian, is one of the costs of discipleship—the risk that one’s love is perceived as hate and gratitude as ingratitude.

Bibliography

  • Corona, Karina, et al. “Familism is Associated with Psychological Well-Being and Physical Health: Main Effects and Stress-Buffering Effects.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 39, no. 1 (2017): 46–65.
  • González, Justo L. Luke. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
  • Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
  • Jeung, Russell M., et al. Family Sacrifices: The Worldviews and Ethics of Chinese Americans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.
  • Ninh, Erin Khuê. Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature. New York: New York University Press, 2011.
  • Ok, Janette H. “Myth of the Model Minority.” In Intersecting Realities: Race, Identity, and Culture in the Spiritual-Moral Life of Young Asian Americans, edited by Hak Joon Lee, pp. 121–133. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2018.
  • Ying, Yu-Wen, and Meekyung Han. “Familism and Mental Health: Variation between Asian American Children of Refugees and Immigrants.” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 4, no. 4 (2007): 333–348.
  • Yoo, Grace J., and Barbara W. Kim. “Remembering Sacrifices: Attitude and Beliefs Among Second-generation Korean Americans Regarding Family Support.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 25, no. 2 (2010): 165–181.

Janette H. Ok