Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even their own life…such a person cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.
Sometimes Jesus beats around the bush, and at other times He hits me upside the head with a 2 x4. *smile* His parables sometimes enlighten, but at other times muddy the waters. In this passage, Jesus leaves little doubt as to His intentions, and what He says should make us all squirm a little in our padded pews.
It’s important to remember, Jesus says to us, if you decide to be His follower, it can cost you your family, friendships, jobs, and your place in society. It can and sometimes will cost you everything! It has even cost some their lives. The message is simple… If you want to be My disciple then you’d better count the costs. It’s an “all or nothing” proposition. If you’re not ready to jump in with both feet, and stay with the journey until the very end, then perhaps its best to stay behind rather than suffer the embarrassment of starting out on the journey and having to turn back before you get to the end.
In other words….“If you can’t stand the heat, get outta the kitchen!” Jesus never promised us a rose garden and He never said following Him would be a cake walk.
What does it mean to take up the cross? What does it mean to sing that old gospel song: “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back?” Even though the world lies behind me and the cross goes before me, even though none go with me, I have decided to follow Jesus?
Before He gets to His parable about counting costs, Jesus raises the biggest obstacle to faith.. our families. “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.” Jesus was not saying that we are to ‘hate’ our families! What He is saying is our biggest obstacles in following Him will come from our family. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” Matthew 10:34,35
If we assume, as I do, that the center of the message of Jesus is one of generosity, and love of God and neighbor, then surely He doesn’t mean for us to hate and despise our families. Hopefully, this is an exaggeration and not to be taken literally, but even if it is, as the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, our ultimate allegiance is to the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is defined by the cross. If we’re to follow Jesus then we must give over everything to Him. Everything! He doesn’t want just week end custody of His kids. He desires to be a full time Father. And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out, it’s a decision that we must make for ourselves. But, “out of fear of such aloneness, a human being seeks safety in the people and things around them. Individuals suddenly discover all their responsibilities and cling to them.”. What needs to be acknowledged here is that when Christ breaks these bonds of family, tribe, and nation, it affects not only the one receiving the call, but also everyone in the family and nation as well. When Jesus calls us to be His disciples, He breaks these bonds, and asks us to trust Him and follow Him, without ever looking back. And as Bonhoeffer also writes: “No one can follow Christ without recognizing and affirming that this break is already complete. Not the caprice of a self-willed life, but Christ himself leads the disciple to such a break”.
What I hear Jesus saying in all of this is: Being a Christian involves making choices and some of them will be tough choices, and they’re not always easy to make. I hear so many of today’s ‘Christians’ talk about finding themselves being persecuted. We cry and carry on about being shunned by family or mistreated by other Christians. Shame on us! We really have no idea what real persecution is! I would dare to say that not a one of us have been hung on a cross to die a slow death after being shamed, humiliated and beaten beyond recognition.
Jesus also tells us if they persecuted Him, they will certainly persecute us! Can the servant expect to be better than the Master!
So, what does it cost to be a disciple of Jesus? For St. Francis it meant becoming a fool for Christ. For Julian of Norwich it meant taking up residence in a small room attached to a medieval church. For Mother Teresa it meant serving the lepers of Calcutta. And for Dietrich Bonhoeffer it meant returning home to Germany from the safety of a teaching post at Union Theological Seminary to take up the struggle against Nazi tyranny. Bonhoeffer never saw himself being a martyr nor did Mother Teresa see herself as a saint. Indeed, in letters released after her death, she confessed to experiencing spiritual desolation and a sense that God had abandoned her. Despite questions about the wisdom of their choices, they remained true to their calling. As a result, the witness of these women and men have been an inspiration to many.
If we are to pay attention to the command to count the costs of discipleship, then we will be leary of those who turn the beatitudes of Jesus into the “Be Happy Attitudes” and the cross of Jesus into a mere piece of jewelry. Following Jesus won’t be no cake walk but the end of the journey will be ‘heaven’.
In His love,