Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Luke 14:26-27, 33 Read the full text here: Luke 14:25-33
Counting the Cost
Is Jesus serious? What strong language – we are to hate not only our family but even our own lives and give up all our possessions? That seems like a prescription for loneliness and homelessness. Surely Jesus is not serious! He must be using those words for effect, to make a point – right?
That is the most common and comfortable way of looking at this passage – Jesus doesn’t really mean it – Jesus is talking to people who are really dense and he has to use these extreme examples in order to get the message through. Well, perhaps, but I think we should be careful about discounting the intensity of Jesus’ word here. Far be it from me to say that Jesus didn’t mean it. In fact, I think Jesus did mean it! But I also think that, as is usually the case, Jesus is also getting at something here that is deep, profound and life-changing:
Discipleship requires commitment!
Discipleship is not a way of thinking – it is a way of acting – it is a lifestyle!
We Western Christians spend a lot of time THINKING about our faith. Christianity for many of us is little more than an attitude, an outlook, a way of thinking that may have something to say about our moral code, but otherwise is somewhat removed from our way of life and way of relating to others. What Jesus is saying here is this in this passage then is this: your faith, your discipleship, your Christianity has to be more than just an attitude, it is a way of being, a way of living, a way of doing. Faithful discipleship is a way of being in the world that impacts the choices and priorities we set and the way we relate to others; Faithful discipleship is a way of living, a lifestyle that calls for us to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs, that calls for us to give of ourselves in a variety of ways including how we spend our money, what we do with our time and how we utilize the talents God has given us; Faithful discipleship is a way of doing and acting in Grace and Love towards others that is not self-focused.
David Lose puts it this way: “That is why this passage -- this difficult and demanding passage -- has so much to offer. Because in this part of the story, Jesus asks his disciples, both then and now, to sacrifice. Actually, he doesn’t ask. He tells us that he expects, even demands, undivided loyalty ... This is why we are asked to count the cost -- because the Christian life is expensive, it demands our commitment in terms of our time, attention, and money. But let me be clear, I’m not talking about salvation. That’s done, over, finished and completed by God’s grace alone.” So we are talking not about justification, but about discipleship, and not only discipleship in general or in theory. Jesus is getting to the heart of the issue by talking about the cost of discipleship.
I suspect this makes us a little uncomfortable. We like to get bargains and deals. We like to get something for nothing. And when it comes to our faith, our discipleship, many of us think a lot about faith but we also go out of our way to make sure that our personal faith doesn’t impact our lifestyle too much. It’s like we keep our faith in a special box that we get down from the shelf whenever we need it, but otherwise the box is stored safely on the shelf as we go about our lives unconcerned with matters of faith – until we need it the next time. In this way our discipleship and our commitment to our community of faith becomes just another activity that has to compete with all the other activities in our lives. And not only that, but we are also missing out. Jesus promises those who follow him “abundant life.” But by storing our faith away and being unwilling to take up our cross we are missing out on the fullness of the gifts that God is giving to you freely and abundantly.
This is what Jesus is talking about in this passage with his strong language of “hate” and ‘giving all.” This is not rhetorical flourish! Jesus means it! Your faith, your discipleship must have something to say about your life, how you spend your time, set your priorities and relate to others. There is a cost to discipleship which calls for sacrifice and self-giving!
So perhaps we need to spend some time in prayer every time we have a child baptized or before we commit to being confirmed. As adults perhaps we all need to spend some time in prayer and study and discernment on a regular basis in order to ponder the discipleship that God is calling us to. Does discipleship, church membership, faith in Christ mean that we can do what we feel like when it is convenient, or is God calling us to a deeper commitment; is God calling us to live our faith and discipleship in a new way? Is God calling us to sacrifice in some way?
So, this Gospel text is asking you to hear and seriously consider the implications of Jesus’ words. I believe that this Gospel word is calling on all of us to look at the long arc of our lives in order to consider what is really important in life, what is it that we hope for most for ourselves and our families. And where does our faith fit into this? Jesus promises “abundant life,” but the abundant life and way of discipleship that Jesus both promises and announces takes sacrifice -- not in order to earn God’s grace but in order to live into the discipleship life that grace makes possible. “This isn’t about our eternal destiny, God has already taken care of that. This is about the caliber and character of our Christian lives. And, like anything else worth doing, discipleship takes time, energy, work, and practice -- in a word, it takes sacrifice.”
This reflection was inspired by an essay by Dr. David Lose "The Cost of Discipleship."