St Augustine comments that there is a great paradox here. On the one hand we are to love our enemies, but on the other, we are to hate our families insofar as they are an obstacle to eternal life.. St Cyril of Alexandria points out that Jesus is not saying we should not love our family, just that we should love nothing, including our family, more than we love him. Nor should we let our natural mother and our love for her supercede what we owe to our mother the church. St Basil notes that Jesus is calling us to be be crucified, to die, and to bury him in baptism.
Tertullian comments that the Apostles serve as examples of those who have left everything behind to carry the cross. St Cyril points out that both parables teach the same lesson, namely that to be a true disciple of Jesus requires invincible fortitude and unwavering zeal.
St Basil tells us that those who would truly follow Jesus must be prepared to break the bonds of attachment that our earthly life brings. We have to separate ourselves from our old habits and forget them; we cannot please God unless we snatch ourselves away from the fleshly and worldly ties. Our citizenship is, St Paul tells us, in Heaven, and we should bear in mind St John’s teaching that no one who does not renounce all he possesses can be his disciple.
The Fathers saw clearly the spiritual message here, and did not read it literally. They did not teach we should hate our families, but that we should love God more. Again, we see that read within the tradition that teaches us what it is, the Bible is best understood.
There is a challenge here for those of us who live in the world and cannot retreat to a place where we can truly shed its trappings. How do we take care of our families, and fulfil the duties we have to them and our employers, and yet still renounce the world for God?