25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25-33 NRSV)
Jesus spends his life on earth teaching and preaching love and kindness and peace. He heals, even on the Sabbath because all of God’s beloved children are included in the kingdom. He preaches that the kingdom of God is more inclusive than some of us are prepared to admit.
He talks about all this good stuff and the crowds are growing. He’s a success and can begin that new building campaign. Instead, he stops, turns around and says to the crowd that they must hate family, take up the cross and give up possessions. Can’t you just see half the crowd turning around and heading for home?
This is a difficult text. It leaves me squirming in my chair, wondering if I’m good enough for Jesus. After all the work I’ve done for him, am I still not going to get “in”?
Yes, this is a difficult text, but don’t go astray with thoughts about being good enough or pious enough. That’s not what this is about. You’re already saved by grace through faith.
The crowd that gathered that day probably expecting material benefits. Others hoped to be a part of an “army” who would overthrow the Roman Empire. Jesus may be headed to Jerusalem, but not to wage war on Rome.
He tells the crowd to count the cost. Following Jesus may be costly. What will it cost your family? The first century Christians understood that they could easily experience literal loss and be plunged into poverty and suffering. Today we could face conflicting loyalties.
What Jesus is saying is, God comes first. Way first. Loving family isn’t on the same level as love of God. It doesn’t even compare.
What Jesus is saying is, God in Christ comes first. When we give up our possessions we give up the need to acquire, petty jealousies, ugly stereotypes of others, prejudice and yearning for success.
Taking up the cross is how we establish our priories. It’s identifying when God takes second chair to something or someone else. It’s giving up something because it’s getting in the way of serving God. You’re carrying the cross whenever you’re doing the hard work of struggling with God.
But. Yes, there’s a but. Jesus clearly tells the crowd, before you sign on the dotted line, consider the cost. Contractors and Generals need plans and supplies before they can begin the job. Are you going to start out and quit when it gets hard?
So, what does discipleship look like?
Frederick Buechner says that, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” (https://www.passiton.com/inspirational-quotes/5539-your-vocation-in-life-is-wh-)
It begins with scripture and prayer. Do you struggle with scripture? Good. The Bible often appears to contradict itself, so in prayer and study you find God in the words speaking to you.
When we allow ourselves to go deep, we find our heart’s desire.
And that’s when we look outside ourselves and find the world’s greatest needs. It changes how we behave, how we love; it radically shifts our sense of what is the right thing to do.
And when our greatest joy is met with the greatest need, we discover that our priorities are realigned. Family falls into place where it belongs. Not hated and set aside, but also, not so important that it takes over our lives. Acquiring possessions or success or any number of things no longer brings any kind of happiness or satisfaction. Mercy and compassion take on whole new dimensions.
What’s Jesus up to? He’s trying to help us go deep in our faith because he knows when we do that we know a deep joy and satisfaction that comes from serving God and allowing the rest of life to fall into its proper place.
I suspect you’ve already discovered this in some large or small way. The cost may seem high, but the reward is transformation to new life, joy beyond measure and a sense of satisfaction and peace in your life.
And that’s when you discover your vocation: because your joy has met great need.
All glory and honor be to God.