The way we speak is important, the words we use to share information and demand attention are critical. Yet the words Jesus said to his followers (Luke 14:25-35) are intentionally provocative and shocking, shaking us, waking us up from our comfortable lives and routines which provide us with security and certainty in a very uncertain world.
Jesus deliberately and clearly asks us to think carefully about the cost of discipleship. Just like the man building a tower, or a king going to war, we must be clear about what it takes to follow through with Jesus. There is no false advertising here. No charismatic seduction going on, no false promises of wealth and high living from Jesus, simply the truth:
Jesus gives us four very strong images about how costly discipleship is for each of us.
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. 14:26
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 14:27
None of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions. 14:33
Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. 14:34-35
God’s invitation to us to follow Jesus means we must be prepared to go all the way to the cross. The invitation is deliberately worded to make us pay attention to the strong call to action by Jesus.
I wonder what you are thinking about such an invitation phrased in such a way. Hold your thoughts and responses and let us now think about the context in which this is provided.
In Luke 14:1 – 14, Jesus went to dinner with some pharisees and lawyers who were watching him closely. Jesus was also watching them and while at table, he saw the habits of those who chose the most important seats, making much of themselves to ensure everyone noticed them. Their priority was self-promotion, pride and vanity, concerned for what others thought about them. Then Jesus tells the Parable of the Great Dinner.
A man invited many people to a great dinner, but as it grew closer to the occasion, those who had been invited sent back their apologies: one said they had bought some land and needed to see to it, another said they had bought some oxen they needed to try out, a third spoke of their recent marriage whose wife meant he had other commitments which stopped them coming. In this story we hear about those with other priorities who said, ‘Sorry, I can’t make it. There is too much happening in my life right now.’
Jesus tells us the master grew angry at such empty excuses and sent out his servants to those outside on the streets, inviting the poor and homeless, the disabled, the blind, the dispossessed and oppressed; and, asked his servants to bring everyone into the meal, even those outside the town, until all the places were filled. This meant everyone could come and eat without any obligation or expectations and were welcomed. Jesus finished the story by saying:
‘For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner’ 14:24
In Jesus’ stories about the cost of discipleship, we realise we too have the same list of people we expect to honour and return favours, and the same sorts of reasons offered for not being ready, not paying attention, not understanding, not being interested, minimizing the invitation and simply being plain foolish. I suspect we can all identify with this list.
Family commitments, property obligations, disputes and the matters of the world are always going to be present and if we’re not careful, they will always seem more important than this odd, unexpected, blunt invitation to join God at God’s table.
What does it take for us to see this clear requirement to prioritise our lives today and understand God is pointing to a much bigger question: ‘How important is your life to you and to your neighbours?’ For some, clearly not important enough.
What are you prepared to do; are you willing to throw it away, like salt which has lost its taste? Is your life good for nothing, worthless. Is that how you would want to sum up your own contribution? Paul reminds us in Philemon:
Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love…(Phil.8-9)
God’s call, issued by Jesus, puts into perspective all the other claims on our lives. Our over-involvement with other people, with property, wealth and busy lives, is simply a refusal to accept God’s invitation. Jesus’ plain speaking of the truth of discipleship makes clear our choice requires us to reject possessions or people who distract us from God. There is little that is gentle or reassuring in this. Jeremiah said the same thing:
‘Can I not do with you …. just as this potter has done?’ Says the Lord. ‘Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.’ (Jer. 18:6)
Yet, it seems to me Jesus’ clear demand for us to count the cost provides us with a moral compass, a way to measure the content of our character and the capacity of our commitment. Jesus is asking us to take his teaching into our hearts his way. We know from experience his way inevitably leads to transformation. This doesn’t happen before the commitment, but the commitment inevitably leads to transformation.
You may recall the civil rights movement in the US. Many signed an agreement and made a commitment to nonviolence. This commitment to a principle meant they endured hardship, pain, and even death. Their commitment to non-retaliation and to nonviolent resistance cost them a great deal. Those who committed to join the Montgomery bus boycott walked to their jobs for 381 days. They had to count the cost ahead of time not knowing what would be required.
We make many commitments without knowing ahead of time what the cost will be. Those who become whistle blowers for example, and those who choose lives of sacrifice for others often step into the journey without realising the extent of the commitment. We look to the ordinary men and women who make these choices when confronted with them and whose lives of courage give us daily examples of their willingness to bear the cost for what they love and believe in. Why do we imagine Jesus’ requirements for commitment to be any different?
So often faith is portrayed as a joyless duty, burdensome, perfectionism, costly and foolish. Yet, everything in this world worth fighting for, comes at a cost. So it is with discipleship. The joyful loving and humanity of Jesus’ teachings are absolutely worth the cost of commitment. We must choose the cost because the cost means we’ll never be the same. The deeper in we go, the more transformational the change will be for us individually and for our neighbours and God’s creation. Nothing, not our families, our possessions, the very being of our lives, will be left untouched.
Jesus was simply asking the question: Are you all in? I hope your answer is Yes!
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Ed’s]. 2014. Feasting on the Gospels Luke Vol. 2. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Johnson, L.T. [Harrington, D.J., S.J., Ed.] 1991. Sacra Pagina Series Vol.3. The Gospel of Luke. A Michael Glazier Book. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Mackay, D. 2015. Glimpses of Jesus though the eyes of his friends. Luke. [Ed. Reid, D.] St Boniface Books, Bunbury, WA
Rohr, R. 1997. The Good News According to Luke. A Crossroad Book, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York.