Now great crowds accompanied [Jesus], and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:25-35 ESV)
Once again we encounter some of the hard sayings of Jesus. We hear Jesus and want to see the footnote, the glossary, the additional comment so that we understand what he meant and have an idea of what the first hearers heard. Because we only have the words –and they are enough for salvation! –we want to hear them well –as God wants us to hear them –as the Holy Spirit nudges, speaks, and sometimes shouts to get through to us –and, I think, we all have a fear that we don’t turn the words’ meaning into the opposite of what Jesus meant! I, do wonder sometimes, as I read various interpretations of the Bible whether if Jesus turned up and said, ‘No, you’ve got it wrong, I did mean what I said ’whether we would reply, ‘Jesus, you don’t know what you’re talking about!’.
That is why a key interpretative action is ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’ which means if you don’t understand the verse, read the verses before and after –or read the chapter –or read the whole book or letter. And if you’re still wrestling with the meaning then read other books where the words or phrase is used or where there is a similar message.
So Jesus, according to Luke, is healing and teaching. His healing is controversial–he heals on the Sabbath. His teachings are not generalised but about specific behaviours –humility on our part and gracious generosity on God’s part.Jesus is creating interest –adulation in some quarters, scorn in others,curiosity in still others –and in this excited –maybe febrile –environment Jesus turns to the crowds and sets down some facts –home truths –clear guidelines and expectations. Is he turning on the crowds if all they want are bread and miracles?
Did you hear the word ‘hate’? It is hard. It is jolting. Jesus puts himself so high in comparison to others in our lives and he goes on to talk about costs and payments. These are the discipleship ‘conditions and expectations’–what bearing your own cross is about–are you ready and prepared? Jesus’ claims it is all or nothing with him. He is not first in your list of priorities–he is your sole focus and priority. And his suggestion thatthose who once were salt and are no longer saltwill just get chucked out into the manure pile, well, that just rubs salt into the situation!
Jesus, are you real? No one should talk like that! No one should want such control over another person! You’re arrogant –even abusive! How can we hate our family or even our own lives? No! No! No! Not healthy! Not good! Go away, Jesus!
I think we can understand such a reaction to Jesus –largely because it is reasonable to us –and it is reasonable in this world. It is always the way with Jesus –he just doesn’t fit–there is a quality about him that doesn’t comply with our or the world’s standards or expectations and we find again and again that we can’t make Jesus into our own image –a better version of us.
And it starts on this occasion with Jesus audaciously saying ‘Follow me’ and talking about hating everything and everyone about us!
When Jesus talks about ‘hate’, he is using the term in the way the prophet Malachi uses the word and it is the way the Apostle Paul will use the same word and it is about God’s selection of Israel and not Esau as the means by which salvation and blessing to the world will be happen. Esau wasn’t hated but one of his descendants would not be a blessing to the whole world. Similarly family and life are not to be hated, treated badly, destroyed but they are not the path of our salvation or the centre of meaning for ourselves.
The cost that Jesus says that needs to be known and considered about salvation is what is left when we renounce everything –even our lives. When there is nothing left, who is left standing?
Of course, we know the answer because Jesus had already set his face towards Jerusalem –the cross and empty tomb are before him –as they are part of his story when we hear about Jesus and when we hear Jesus today. We know the One who died on the cross and who was raised to life and who has given us his life to live in our lives, in our relationships with mother and father, family and friends and enemies –and Jesus guides us to always serve them. But he is the one, the centre, the focus, the meaning, the love of our life and so we will follow him –the picture is taking up one’s cross –each day, seeking to live as he wants us to live.
It means that when the world seeks wealth, disciples seek Jesus.
When the world says that happiness is the goal of life, disciples seek Jesus.
When the world cries out for health and good times, disciples cry out for Jesus.
When the world stamps its feet and says, ‘Follow Me’, disciples say, ‘I follow Jesus’.
When the world is wracked with guilt and despair, disciples open beggars’ hands to receive Jesus.
When the world claims that only laws help us live, disciples listen out for the Gospel.
When the world says it knows best, disciples check with Jesus.
Everyone follows something or someone –a philosophy, an idea, a political movement, a person, a group or tribe. That is the nature of this world and into it has stepped Jesus. Only his cross and empty tomb and the story leading up to them and what happens because of them, provide the foundations or credentials for why Jesus should be followed. And when he speaks strange to our senses and to the world, that is part of the mystery of the cross, that Jesus doesn’t even do rescuing and helping as we would expect!
But life with this Jesus –living in God’s grace and forgiveness–living on Jesus’ terms –yes, he can be trusted! –is the best adventure we can ever have!
- Luke 14:25 - 35