This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 4th, 2016.
If you decide to preach on Luke 14:25-33, expect several moments during the week when you wonder if you should have picked another text. What if there is a visitor looking for a church home? What if someone comes to worship who needs a word of comfort? What will this passage say to the members of your congregation who are praying that God will make their hard lives easier?
For The Year of Living Biblically, A. J. Jacobs decided to live by every rule in the Bible. He tried to follow the Ten Commandments. He refrained from gossiping, lying, and coveting. He estimates that he cut down on his coveting by 40 percent.
Jacobs did not enjoy tithing, but he did it. He stopped shaving and wearing clothes made of mixed fibers. He attached tassels to his clothing, tried his hand at a ten-string harp, and ate crickets, but no pork or shrimp.
A. J.’s wife, Julie, accepted the rules against him touching her, or any chair she sat on, while she was menstruating. When Julie and A. J. got into an argument, she purposely sat on every chair in the house, leaving him nowhere to sit.
Jacobs tries to keep more than 700 rules, but when he comes to Luke 14, he writes, “I could have lived an even more bizarre life. I could have hated my parents because Jesus says to” (The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007, 290).
When he gets to this passage, he does not even try. This is too difficult. Hate your family. Carry a cross. Follow Jesus. This is too much, and ministers know it.
We learn to compromise because Jesus’ way is difficult. We believe in peace, but we want our team to win. We believe in justice, but we get used to inequality. We are concerned about poverty, but we appreciate wealth.
The crowds are following Jesus because they think the trip to Jerusalem is a parade, but Jesus knows this is a funeral procession. His attitude is the opposite of most preachers. He is distressed when crowds show up because he assumes they must not understand the cost.
Jesus does not appear to know how to grow a church. Jesus has a large, enthusiastic crowd ready to sign up. Jesus could break attendance records, but instead, he offends them.
People used to talk about the Roman Road to salvation, but nobody ever mentioned the Lukan Road—hate loved ones, carry a cross, and follow Jesus. Jesus has a lengthy list of people to hate—father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and self.
Our first reaction to this verse is to explain why Jesus does not mean what he says. We would like to take the edge off these hard words by suggesting that the word translated “hate” must mean something else. The Greek word miseo means hate. If it is necessary, we have to turn our back on our family.
Carry a cross. To bear a cross is to choose the consequences of suffering with Christ—telling the truth when it is hard, working for the poor, loving enemies, listening to the lonely, and caring for the lost.
Follow Jesus. Anyone following Jesus needs to know that he is going to Jerusalem to be killed. Christianity is following someone headed in a direction we would not normally go.
Jesus tells us, with absolute clarity, that nothing—not family or work or possessions—takes precedence over God. Preachers want to suggest that following is as easy as being faithful members of our families, using our possessions wisely, and living generously, but Jesus talks about towers and wars: “Which of you intending to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and see whether you have enough to complete it? Count the cost before you say that you are going to follow. What king, going to wage war, 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?”
Jesus is a king making sure that his army is truly committed. When we hear Jesus’ words, we may feel like Jesus is saying that we will never be strong enough. This talk of counting the cost and fighting the battles would be completely discouraging, except for this—we get Jesus.
We preach the painful, wondrous truth that when it is hardest, we discover that Jesus is with us. Have you ever had a week where everything goes wrong? You know you are trying to do what’s right, but nothing is working. Then there is a moment when you feel God holding you.
When we become utterly dependent upon the grace of God, when we live in partnership with Christ, when we listen to the promptings of the Spirit—we find our way to hope. God helps us live in the way of Christ, with compassion—an alternative to the jungle of selfishness around us, with generosity—in opposition to the marketplace of greed, and with love—treating people as friends and not problems to be solved.
Jesus is demanding, but he is also loving. The one who demands everything of us gives us everything—comfort, meaning, and joy. Costly discipleship is not easy, especially when the world makes counterclaims, but the question becomes, “Are you willing to give up your limited life to truly live in Christ?”
Do you remember the old spiritual, “In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus. When I come to die, give me Jesus. You can have all the world, give me Jesus”?
If we follow, that is what we get. We get Jesus.
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, New York
Tags: counting the cost, discipleship, cross, sacrifice