Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Peace be with you!
Don’t get me wrong: I love my father. I love how I make my father proud of raising a strong woman who has a master’s degree, owns her own home, pays her bills, travels to conferences, and follows her passions. Whenever anyone treats me like a four year old because I am in electric wheelchair and have Cerebral Palsy, my father tells them that I have a Master’s in New Testament. I love making my father proud.
However, don’t ask my father to tell you about my calling to write devotions or my passion to explain how God continues to heal individuals in the world. My father does not understand my devotion to the Lord and how I am making a difference. To him, I spend my time at home on my computer doing [whatever “it” is] I do. I do not hate my father for not understanding my career as he does my brother’s computer networking job, my sister’s teaching job, or my sister-in-law’s dentist job; mine is not clear cut job. Some days all I do is listen to people on Facebook and Twitter talk about their days and look for resources for them. Some days I am on a plane and the person next to me needs to hear the good news and to receive absolution. Some days I dwell in the Word and argue with the Apostle Paul (who has been dead for two thousand years). Some days I read theology books and write reviews in order to converse with the authors. Some days I find myself just dictating devotions from the Lord. Some days I sit in prayer. Some days I do errands and find myself sitting quietly next to a stranger bringing them the gift of presence. Some days I am glued to the news and praying for those affected by [whatever “it” is] that is happening. Some days I volunteer at the hospital. My job is not easy to explain to someone who does not understand ministry. It is a hard career to explain.
In the gospel reading, Jesus is speaking to a large crowd about what discipleship means – the job description for a disciple. Jesus knows some people in the crowd are not in it for the long haul; they are enjoying the entertainment – the healings, the speeches, and the free food – but they are not going to stand with him for the sake of the good news. Nope, the minute things get tough, these people will run back home where it is comfortable.
First, Jesus warns the crowd that others are going to be reluctant to be associated with them. English translations do not capture the true meaning of what the author of Luke is explaining. The Greek word μισέω in Luke 14:26 means to love others less than the Triune God. Jesus is saying we need to be reluctant to love with our whole hearts someone who does not believe as well as other believers in the Good News, not that we should hate everyone who is not a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are still able to love these individuals (remember, we are called to love our neighbors) (Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27), but we are to love God more than anyone and anything, even life itself. This passage is a warning there is going to be some tension within households. Everyone is going to be at odds with each other – fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. The household is going to be redefined.
In the Biblical world, a person’s identity was based on their kinship (family name and family trade). Your parents raised you doing their trade and one day the shop would be handed down. With Jesus going around speaking the Good News, members of households are leaving home to follow Jesus; something new is happening. This has an economical cost to households – no one is producing, and families cannot buy food or clothes. We have to face possible alienation from our families in order to follow Jesus. We have to willing to give up our family name and the only way of life we know; we are going into the unknown. This tension between us and family members as well as between us and people in the world puts our lives in danger at times, but Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus is asking the crowd, “Are you ready to give up your life to follow me?
Today, we understand tension between family members. With divorces and arguments between family members, we understand what it means to not get along. What we miss is the near total alienation that would come with being in conflict with family members in Bible times. Nowadays, if we are disowned or only go home on holidays, we have other connections – friends, co-workers, and others – who will walk with us through life. Today, our identity is not often based solely on our family ties, but our identity becomes what we make it. However, we still feel the pain of not measuring up to others’ expectations. We want to make [whoever “it” is] proud of us. When we make the decision to follow Jesus Christ, we do it knowing not everyone we love and care about is going to support us. Some people will alienate us for believing Jesus died for our sins. Some will remain in contact merely to be polite. Others will criticize us for following Jesus. We understand the tension Jewish families felt.
Second, Jesus says we have to be willing to carry the cross (Luke 14:27). When he speaks to the crowd, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to face his crucifixion and death. Jesus is asking the crowd, “Do you want to watch me get beaten, crucified, and die?” Jesus knows what is going to happen in the future, and it is not going to be pretty. Crucifixions were gruesome and brutal deaths. Jesus seems to be giving his followers fair warning: “If you have a weak stomach or dislike angry crowds, you may want to start packing up and heading home, because after this gathering there is no turning back.”
Jesus uses parables to explain his point. Jesus describes how a builder draws up plans for a tower in order to estimate the costs before starting to build. The builder does this to ensure he can complete the project; otherwise, he would look foolish for not being able to finish it (Luke 14:28-30). Then Jesus explains how a king first considers if he can wage war against another kingdom before going into battle; otherwise, the king sends a delegation to settle terms of peace (Luke 14:31-32). The people in the crowd understand how a builder and a king would need to calculate risks before taking on a project.
Jesus is asking the crowd to evaluate the risks of following him to the cross. Nothing from here on out is going to be easy. “You are going to have to watch the Roman Empire beat and kill me,” says Jesus. “Are you sure you are up to this?”
Jesus also is warning the people that they are going to be killed for following him. Following Jesus means you have no self interests, no self desires, or no other loyalties. You give up your kingship – the stable lifestyle – for the sake of sharing the Good News. You are following Jesus for one reason only: to spread the good news. And yes, you may face persecution in his name. Andrew, Bartholomew, Jude, and Peter all were crucified, like Jesus; they all suffered the same gruesome and brutal death as Jesus. Others would be beheaded and beaten to death. Today people are shot, imprisoned, gassed and beaten for being disciples of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is asking the crowd, “Are you willing to die in my name?”
Third, Jesus tells us that we will have to give up all of their possessions (Luke 14:33). In Biblical times, those who were cut off from family were forced to travel with just what they could carry. They literally had to give up all of their possessions and travel with just the clothes on their back to follow Jesus to the cross and to spread the Good News. Nowadays, we do not have to give up every thing; however, this does not mean we should have [whatever “it” is] we want just because we can. In American, we can have almost anything we want within a day or two – just go on Amazon.com with your Prime membership and click. The world is full of temptations, but we serve the Triune God most when we give up the extras in order to help the neighbor. Jesus asks, “Are you sure you are up to this?”
We are given a new identity when we become disciples of Jesus Christ. The new identity is not for the faint hearted; it comes with tension, suffering, and the just basics. Jesus is giving those not willing meet these three requirements – loving God more than life itself, carrying the cross, and giving your possessions – an out to go back to their comfortable lives. Today we use these three requirements to examine our lives as Christ’s disciples. Jesus asks, “Are you sure you are up to this?”
I love my earthly father for adopting me as an infant, for providing everything I needed as a child, for teaching me the value of a dollar, for instilling family values in me, for giving me the tools to evaluate life’s situations, and for being proud to call me his daughter. However, I love my heavenly Father more for adopting me – a sinner, for showing me the way out of the darkness, for protecting me from the Devil, for giving me an earthly family to love and to love me, for giving me what I need at the right time, and for sending Jesus Christ to die for my sins. I am up to being Jesus’ disciple for the sake of the Good News. The Triune God has empowered me to spread the Good News by equipping me with spiritual gifts of patience, understanding, writing and courage. I may fall from time to time, but God picking me back up. Nothing in the world compares to what God has to offer me.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving Jesus the strength to give us a little tough love so we know what is expected of us. Help us to love people less, to carry the cross, and to give up what we do not need in order to share the good news. Lead us into the world with the courage to face criticism from your opponents, even if they are our own family and friends. Thank you for giving us an out, but we stand by you, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant located here.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. How do you love God more than life itself?
2. When were you first asked to carry the cross?
3. What possessions are you required to give up?