Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
Jesus speaks frankly about the costs of discipleship. Those who follow him should know from the outset that completing the course of discipleship will finally mean renouncing all other allegiances.
25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
One thing that has always struck me odd about the gospels, is the mention of the cross ahead of the crucifixion. Jesus says to the crowds traveling with him – Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
I imagine a couple guys in the crowd cheering, “Yeah, carry the cross, we got it! Wait. Did he say cross? Like a + cross?? What about them? Where are we going with crosses?? Were we supposed to get our own or are they provided for us? So many questions!”
The disciples have heard the predictions of Jesus’ death – the disciples have been told they need to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow. But this is directly to the crowds. AND ITS A HARD WORD. Those who follow him should know from the outset that completing the course of discipleship will finally mean renouncing all other allegiances.
And we can’t do it ourselves, but German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer martyred by the Nazis reminds us that we don’t travel this hard road ourselves.
To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Bonhoeffer’s work was titled the Cost of Discipleship – which is usually what this section of Luke’s gospel is called, but what Jesus is after is weighing the cost of our choices, or counting the cost. Being a disciple was a commitment and one that you should be prepared for.
If you google “Marks of Discipleship”, you’ll find that nobody agrees about how many different things actually make up a disciple. Jesus doesn’t really cover any of the easy stuff here, he goes right for family-fracturing, life-risking, danger. But you’ve got books about the nine marks, the seven marks, the three marks, and the six marks. The most basic are covered in a book I’ve read are that a disciple prays daily; worships weekly; reads the Bible daily; serves at and beyond the congregation; relates with others to encourage spiritual growth; and gives a tithe (10%) and beyond. This doesn’t include anything about laying down one’s own life, or taking up a cross, or giving up your family for Jesus.
What it meant to be a Christian changed fundamentally when the Emperor Constantine of Rome declared Christianity the religion of the Empire. Prior to that, you were an outsider to the powers that be, no prayer breakfasts with the emperors. You were on the margins, if not outlawed. You were looked at with suspicion by even your own family because what you had to say about God’s love and new life in Christ sounded so unbelievable.
And then over thousands of years of Christian life in the realm, we have what’s known as Christendom, and a supposedly Christian society. But it’s not a society made of disciples preaching a radical message of grace that is dangerous. It’s a society of church members, who appreciate the benefits of their membership. Somebody wrote that being a member means looking for what you can get, being a disciple means looking for what you can give.
Our reading of the things Jesus tells us to give away is different than what Jesus’ audience would have heard. The society of the 1st century was built fundamentally on honor versus shame. What brings honor? Your place in society, based on your kinship ties and who you know. What brings shame? Carrying an instrument of torture – not even talking about the torture itself, but crucifixion was a way to publicly humiliate and shame criminals and would be revolutionaries. What brings honor? Possessions and wealth. What brings shame? Poverty. Jesus’ message of how God’s kingdom works turns that system on its head. Blessed are the poor.
A different understanding of not just family – but neighbors and enemies as well.
If we do it right, the message is dangerous. Dangerous to any power in this world that seeks our allegiance. Dangerous to anything we fear other than the Lord. Dangerous to our own sinful nature which curves in our ourselves and seeks our own welfare and good before those around us. And here we’ve been pretending that this gospel is the stuff of Children’s plays and hallmark cards.
Though the world has changed for Christians – calls for our allegiance to something other than the gospel still persist. For instance, Christian Nationalism calls for our allegiance to be America first – and persuades Christians to place their privileged position in a wealthy developed country as their primary identity. But to promise Jesus that you will follow him means something quite different. It actually does mean renouncing your privilege, letting go of your hold on all other things that you believe will save you, to put your trust in Christ alone. Jesus Christ, who remains with us through the darkest valleys, and whose shameful death and joyful resurrection has conquered the powers that would keep us bound and freed us for life abundant in him. And All those other things you’d like to cling to? “Lay those trophies at his feet, and crown him Lord of all.”