Ordinary Time, Sept 4- Luke 14:25-33 – The Cost and Benefits of Discipleship

Climb that Hill

Here is the passage

This is at least the third time Jesus has said something provocative. Jesus makes a statement in 12:51 about not bringing peace. Also consider his actions on the sabbath in 13:11. Now another teaching moment on the cost of discipleship.

Picture yourself in the crowd following Jesus. You can only see his back. Occasionally, he turns around to deliver a difficult saying, almost as if daring people to continue following him. Yes, he is probably trying to reduce the crowd by making the way harder than it is now. Jesus is beginning to sense the “all” that lies ahead for him personally (betrayal and denial by his closest companions, followed by false arrest, torture, and brutal execution). He is trying to find the genuine seeker.

This text begins and ends with an “all or nothing” injunction about following Jesus, with two practical illustrations in between.

a.  introductory statement (25)

b. “hating” family members (26) // Mt 10:37; Th 55:1; 101:1-3

c.  bearing one’s cross (27) // Mt 10:38; Mk 8:34; Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23; Th 55:2

d.  tower builder (28-30) –illustration 1 no parallels

e.  warrior king (31-32) –illustration 2 no parallels

f.   renouncing all possessions (33) no parallels

Jesus has three demands three demands or renunciations: (1) one renounces one’s family; (2) one renounces one’s life–by bearing the cross; (3) one renounces all that one has. Note the demands are for disciples, the leaders, not to those who are invited to only come eat at the table. Grace is for all but not discipleship.

The Three Demands:

1. Renounce family

The word “hate” use here is different than in our own time It means “to turn away from, to detach oneself from,” rather than our animosity-laden understanding. In Genesis, we read in one verse that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (29:30), but in the next verse, it literally says that Leah was hated (“unloved” see also v. 33). Leah was not hated like we usually use the word, but Jacob simply loved her less than he loved Rachel. Jacob didn’t have an intense dislike for Leah.

The family context is important. You were identified by your family. Individuals had no real existence apart from their ties to blood relatives, especially parents. If one did not belong to a family, one had no real social existence [like widows and orphans?]. Jesus is therefore confronting the social structures that governed his society at their core.

“Hate” is used in the sense of subordinating our natural affections, even our own being, in commitment to Jesus. A person who decides for Jesus may well find their family opposed to their new faith. In such a circumstance, loyalty to Jesus takes precedence over loyalty to family – if you want to be a disciple – a leader in the Jesus movement. Ultimately Jesus’ appeal is not to ignore people’s interest but to appeal to them. You want real profit? You want real life? Then follow me – become detached.

2. Bear Cross. Jesus usually says to take up the cross but this time is to bear the cross. In the Interpreter’s Bible it says this “Cross bearing requires deliberate sacrifice and exposure to risk and ridicule in order to follow Jesus. This commitment is not just a way of life, however. It is a commitment to a person.”

Bearing the Cross simply may mean bearing the burdens. Luke travelled with Paul and in Galatians – “From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.” If indeed Luke accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, he would be familiar with the Pauline vocabulary. Paul no doubt thought deeply about the way that his discipleship to Christ was like marks on his body–indeed, he says that his imprisonments and punishments were for Christ.

3. Give up possessions

Giving up possessions means saying farewell to them. How important are they ?The idea is not being possessed by them so they don’t divert you from the task at hand. This is also related to families Jesus regularly associated family power with possession power, because both belonged together. One of the reasons for family power was protection of possessions.

This may be more in eliminating what is dear or in the way to follow a life of simplicity to follow and act on what Jesus has to say. It is also to possibly examine our priorities and place him higher on the list

If doesn’t mean “if I give up all my possessions, I will be automatically admitted into “Christ’s club”. It is not what we don’t have that tells us whether we are genuinely followers of Christ – it is what we invest what we have in moving the kingdom of God forward in our time and in our place.

The passage ends with two parables. The first one is calculating the costs of building a tower. Think about the cost of discipleships before you begin, not during.

Often, if we wait until everything is perfectly planned before beginning a project, we would never get started. On one hand, one should know about the costs of following Jesus and not just “go along with the crowd”, but on the other hand, we don’t know exactly what “crosses” may be before us. A  would-be disciple needs to consider the cost of discipleship

The second is going into battle with much fewer troops

A wise person would consider the “cost” of going to war before tackling an enemy who could easily overwhelm them. Faced with such an enemy, a wise person would sue for peace. A would-be disciple should consider the cost – don’t start what you can’t finish.

Think long and hard about Christian discipleship before a decision is made. Divided priorities drain the ability of the person to be a disciple

In summary

On one hand, Jesus makes it very difficult to be his disciple. It will cost us everything and we need to know the cost before “jumping” in. Reliance on family and possesions must be set aside for a total dependence of Jesus, the cross-bearing Christ. Such a decision for Christ comes with consequences: humiliation, shame, trouble in relationships and life in general- bearing the cross

On the other hand, Jesus may be making it impossible to be his disciple using our own abilities When we confess, “I can’t,” then we are open for God’s “I can.” Self-reliance must be set aside for a total dependence of Jesus, the cross-bearing Christ. Discipleship means a relationship of learning and growth with Jesus as the teacher and God as God, not family.

In the book Power Surge, Mike Foss lists “six marks of discipleship for a changing church” which he expects members to practice. They are:

  • daily prayer
  • weekly worship
  • Bible reading
  • service in and beyond the congregation
  • spiritual friendships
  • giving time, talents, and resources

They are simply habits of the soul that open us to the wonder and mystery of God’s active presence in our lives. They keep us focused; they fix our attention on the things of God.  

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