“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
In our text for today (Luke 14:25-33) Jesus is traveling with a large crowd. Why are these crowds following Jesus? We get used to the stories, but it’s important to remember that what Jesus is doing in his ministry is absolutely astounding and surprising. Casting out demons, healing the sick, speaking with authority and even demonstrating power over nature – calming the winds and the waves with a word. People are flocking after this new teacher.
But suddenly, almost as if to warn the crowds – or to challenge the crowds – he begins talking about the cost of being a true disciple. Sure it’s fun to follow the crowd when there’s a show, when there are miracles, when healings are happening! But Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – to die on a cross. So he lays it out clearly – there’s a real cost to following Jesus!
He states three things that are required:
- You must hate your family and your own life. (father, mother, brother, sister)
- You must take up your cross
- You must get rid of all of your possessions
Let’s look at each of these as they seem pretty severe.
Hate your own family
Throughout the old and new testaments there are passages where “hate” and “love” are used as a comparison or a method of teaching. An earlier passage in Luke where Jesus says that “no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or love the one and hate the other” shows how these words were used hyperbolically to make a point.
No one hearing Jesus that day would actually have thought that he was requiring them to emotionally hate their families. The clear commands in the Torah to honor your father and mother, and to love your neighbor as yourself (surely this would include family members!) would seem to rule out a literal meaning of Jesus’ words.
A look at the parallel passage in Matthew 10:37, where Jesus teaches about the conditions for discipleship, may also be of help here. “If anyone loves their family more than me, they are not worthy of me.” It’s clear that Jesus is stating things strongly in order to make a comparison between commitments and allegiances. To be a disciple of Jesus will mean that an allegiance to him will be absolute, will need to supersede any ties to family – no matter how important those may be.
Take up your cross
Most biblical scholars are not even certain how the crowds hearing Jesus’ statement to “take up one’s cross and follow me” would have understood that phrase. For those of us reading it today, we immediately associate the phrase with the cross of Calvary, the cross upon which Jesus died. It has even entered our common lectionary – “to bear one’s cross” – as a common way to indicate the acceptance of one’s burdens and trials. The crowd that day was of course pre-Calvary and therefore we’re not certain how they would have understood it.
An earlier passage in Luke 9:23-25 also uses the phrase. Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Along with the added word DAILY, this passage indicates a regular and steady acceptance, not only of one’s own burdens and trials, but the willingness to take on the burdens and struggles of others in some form. Remember that even Simon of Cyrene carried the cross upon which Jesus would be crucified.
Being a disciple sounds like hard work! Because of that, Jesus gives us two practical examples:
Building a tower:
If anyone is planning on building a tower (or any other structure) it’s important to first consider the supplies and resources that one has. Do I have enough time, labor, lumber, and sufficient budget to cover all the expenses? Will I be able to complete the project? Who wouldn’t sit down and take time to consider these issues?
Going to War:
And if a king or nation plans to wage war against another king or nation it would be important to first consider the size and strength of one’s own army compared to that of one’s foe. How many soldiers, horses, spears (tanks, guns, ammunition) will it require in order to defeat the enemy? Maybe we should come to some peaceful agreement instead? Who wouldn’t sit down and take time to consider these issues?
In the same way, it’s important to truly understood the sacrifices required in order to become a faithful disciple.
Get rid of all your possessions
“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.“
Seriously? All of them? What is Jesus saying here?
Most people in Jesus’ day did NOT give up all their possessions. When the early church was living communally (Acts 2), people were not giving up everything. Selling one’s property and sharing it with the community did not appear to be a requirement but was done voluntarily. (Ananias & Sapphira)
This, too, is an extreme way of saying that our thoughts about possessions must change! The idea that we are owners of anything needs to be called into question. We are stewards of God’s blessing, not owners!
A recent story I read in preparing this message may help us understand (taken from Debi Thomas, writing for Journey with Jesus):
A group of people are taking a voyage on a large cruise ship with many levels and cabins. A passenger on the lowest level decides to dig a hole in the floor of his cabin. As the water begins to rush in, people come running and demand “What are you doing??! He answers: “This is my cabin. I paid for it.” In the end the ship sinks.
This is admittedly a silly and oversimplified story. But it speaks to Jesus’ command for us to get rid of our possessions.
When we answer Jesus’ call, when we become his disciple, we are now on a large ship, the kingdom of God ship. “My cabin” no longer exists. I’m connected to everyone else and what I do with my cabin is connected to everyone else’s well-being. Jesus’ call on my life is absolute and that includes the things that I call “my own”, whether it be time, talent, or stuff.
So, what are we to make of these three severe requirements for discipleship? Our faith, walking with God, WILL involve sacrifice and sometimes difficulties. Jesus asks us to subordinate, to renounce anything that we own, value, love, or depend on…. MORE than God.
Can we own possessions without being possessive? With open hands….. as stewards?
Can we have a single-minded allegiance to Jesus…without being small-minded and exclusive toward others that are different than us?
Can we daily consider not only our own trials and struggles, but those of others?
Can I see how committing myself to Jesus, will mean committing myself to ALL others?
Jesus’ words earlier in Luke 9:24 may be a good summary:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
(the above is a summary of the message shared during our worship on September 4, 2022.)