The enthusiastic crowd following Jesus was unaware that he was going to Jerusalem to the cross. They decided on their own to follow him. Jesus emphasizes the importance of his words by turning to address the hasty volunteers. He tells 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.” Woven throughout the fabric of today’s gospel are the words, “if you’re not willing…you can’t be my disciple.”
The first not willing is refusal to let go of family ties. Jesus then goes one step further, telling the crowd to let go of, “even one’s own self!” What did Jesus mean?
In Luke’s world, high cultural value was placed upon the family network. Jesus says disciples must disavow their primary allegiance to their family. 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.
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. If someone wanted to follow Jesus, and it created a conflict in the family, what would that person choose to do?
The second not willing is refusing to shoulder one’s own cross. We hear people talk about pain and illness or other problems in their lives as the “cross I have to bear.” Carrying one’s cross has nothing to do with any of that. It is something we do voluntarily because 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 all sweetness and light. If Jesus had to go through suffering and pain, it is no wonder that we will have to go through this as well.
The third not willing summarizes the cost of discipleship. Jesus said, “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 MSG). Now this is going too far. How can we live like that?
Jesus’ challenge was not one of ignoring your family or having to live like a destitute pauper. The issue is whatever stands in the way of wholehearted devotion to Jesus is a problem.
This whole gospel passage has stressed what makes us unable to be Jesus’ disciples. We need to know what we’re getting into before jumping in feet first. There’s no bait and switch here. 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 to God’s “I will.”
Theologian R. Alan Culpepper summarizes Jesus’ point this way:
The cost of discipleship is paid in many different kinds of currency…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)
The other day, Ray and I were watching an interview with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He was so passionate about his country, their way of life and his family. He had a fire in his belly about the cause for freedom and dignity in his country. I was so impressed by his devotion to Ukraine. This fervor led him to give up his career as a comedian to run for office to become President.
What would our churches look like if congregations had such zeal? Would we be declining or growing? What if we shared our faith stories, what God has done in our lives with the zeal President Zelenskyy has for Ukraine? It all begins with answering Jesus’ call to discipleship. Jesus asks, “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?” How shall we answer?
R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke
Joel B. Green, NICNT: Luke
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.compicture