Have any of you ever joined a book club, cd club or dvd club or another organization without reading all the fine print first? It can be difficult to figure out exactly what is expected in order to get the great bargains. After a while you realize how much money you have to spend in order to save. That wasn’t made clear in the ads, was it?
Unlike slick advertising agencies or those who proclaim a cross-less faith, Jesus clearly spelled out the cost of being his disciple. There was no small print or hidden fees. Please don’t misunderstand; our salvation is a free gift of God and we can do nothing to deserve it. Jesus was talking about the lives of those who are truly his followers. This is about how we are to live out our lives of faith.
At times, Jesus was like a rock star. People followed him like groupies of today. The crowd was enthusiastic—and unaware that he was going to Jerusalem to the cross. Jesus was speaking to a group of people that started following him not to the people he had called to a life of discipleship. These were people who had decided on their own to follow Jesus.
By turning to address these hasty volunteers, Jesus emphasized the importance of what he was going to say. Jesus’ told the crowd, “Think about what you’re doing and where I’m going and what that will take, then decide if you’re willing to go with me all the way.
When we read Jesus’ criteria for discipleship how many of us think, “Really Jesus?” You’ve got to be kidding! Jesus pulls no punches. Woven throughout the fabric of today’s gospel are the words “if one does not…one cannot be my disciple.”
The first does not is hating one’s family. Isn’t that over the top? What did Jesus mean? To hate is a Semitic expression meaning to turn away from or to detach oneself from. It has none of the emotion our culture attaches to the phrase, “I hate you!”
In Luke’s world, high cultural value was placed upon the family network. It was paramount to everything. Jesus says disciples must disavow their primary allegiance to their family.
As we can imagine, families would certainly disapprove of Jesus’ instructions. Such a commitment would detract from family responsibilities. Every family member was needed to work in the family business. Remember that Jesus and his disciples were an itinerant band. The disciples had to be willing to leave home and family and travel from village to village to proclaim the gospel. So, if someone wanted to follow Jesus and it created a conflict in the family, what would that person choose to do?
The second does not is actually a have to. One has to carry his or her cross. We often hear people talk about pain and illness or some problem in their lives being the “cross I have to bear.” Carrying one’s cross has nothing to do with any of that. Carrying the cross is something we do voluntarily as a result of our commitment to Jesus Christ. It requires deliberate sacrifice and exposure to risk and ridicule in order to follow Jesus (R. Alan Culpepper, Luke). However, Jesus did not say that simply by being one of his followers life was going to be peachy keen or without difficulty. If Jesus had to go through suffering and pain, it stands to reason that we will have to go through this as well.
The third does not is nothing new, but rather a summary of the cost of discipleship. Jesus said, “...none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33 NRS). Now this is going too far. How can we live like that? Jesus was telling the crowd to say good-bye or bid farewell to all they have.
Jesus’ challenge was not one of ignoring your family or having to live like a destitute pauper. The issue is whatever will stand in the way of wholehearted devotion to Jesus is a problem.
On what basis do we make our decisions? Pastor Mark Davis puts the cost of discipleship very bluntly when he says:
It may mean living in that “dangerous neighborhood” or attending a less achieving school, because a gracious presence is needed there...It may mean unpopular choices despite the protests of one’s family...That kind of choosing...has to be cast in the strongest language possible, because we will domesticate the gospel and make it a matter of enhancing ourselves and our families until we hear this kind of extreme language and let it shake us. (Mark Davis, leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com)
This whole gospel passage has stressed what makes us unable to be Jesus’ disciples. Jesus doesn’t make it easy. We need to know what we’re getting into before jumping in feet first. It will cost us everything. Jesus is showing us how impossible it is with just our own abilities to be faithful followers. When we confess, “I can’t,” then we can be open for God’s “I can.”
Theologian R. Alan Culpepper summarizes things this way:
The cost of discipleship is paid in many different kinds of currency. For some persons a redirection of time and energy is required, for others a change in personal relationships, a change in vocation, or a commitment of financial resources; but for each person the call to discipleship is all consuming. A complete change in priorities is required of all would be disciples. No part-time disciples are needed. No partial commitments are accepted. (R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke, 294)
Let us pray using a prayer written by St. Ignatius:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me. Amen.