Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Healing Service / September 5, 2010
Text: Luke 14: 25 – 33 / Title: Discipleship or Not / Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley
*Some text attributed to Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, former Episcopal Priest
If we were taking a poll as to what picture of Jesus best describes our image of him…I would bet that for many of us, the image of the Good Shepherd comes close. With playful sheep dancing all around…and a lamb draped over his shoulders. How about a picture of a laughing Jesus sitting this time…with little children climbing all over his legs and hanging on his arms as if he were some kind of big tree? Whatever image that you and I grew up with…I am sure that it presented a man who was very loving and warm, who enjoyed being around people and spending lots of time with them. Is it any wonder then, when presented with an image of a Jesus who is anything but kind in his approach and using words that we seldom hear coming out of his mouth….we simply don’t get it?
Could it be that Jesus isn’t making himself clear? Or are we the ones who aren’t clear as to what Jesus means when he says: ‘we cannot be his disciples unless…we hate our families…carry our crosses…and give up all of our possessions (our accumulated “stuff”)’. Well if you’re hearing what I’m hearing, we might as well give it up right now. Because clearly, none of us has what it takes. Far from making it easier for folks to follow him…he keeps pointing out how hard it is.
Surely, the good folk in the fourteenth chapter of Luke would have to agree. They have been keeping up with Jesus as he travels from town to dusty town and notice they are not people whom he has called to follow him. They simply came, filled with hope and expectation and found a Jesus who was anything but welcoming. He tells them…not to get their hopes up because more than likely they cannot afford what…they…want.
What they want is…to go with Jesus. They want to get as close as they can…and they want to be a part of changing the world with him. But they do not have a clue as to what it cost. Jesus…wants to tell them the truth. He doesn’t want them to misunderstand and he doesn’t want to mislead them into thinking that being a disciple is simply a walk in the park. When in reality, it is anything but. He suggests that they go and do the math, throwing in two illustrations as to what happens when one doesn’t consider the cost.
So why does he have to use such strong language? It doesn’t seem right…for Jesus to talk about “hating” one’s parents…one’s children…even one’s life. There must be more to this story, and thanks be to Luke…there is. Most likely, what Luke recorded for us to hear was Jesus using a figure of speech that we don’t use anymore. In Jesus day, it was common practice that when stating a preference, you simply paired two things together…saying you loved one…and hated the other. With no emotional connection whatsoever, you were clearly stating your preference for one thing over another. For example, I could say that I love cookies and hate pies. Does that mean that I absolutely abhor eating a piece of pumpkin pie? No way! It simply means that I prefer cookies…making them my first choice.
What is on Jesus’ mind on this particular day is getting one’s priorities straight. He is on his way to Jerusalem, and he knows that a hard road lay before him. Who better to relate, than the Gospel writer Luke. At the writing of his Gospel, Christians were already being persecuted and possibly members of Luke’s community. It was well known that if the Romans found even one member of a family to be a Christian, the entire family was arrested and taken away. So Jesus’ words became very real for many Christians as it often meant turning away from one’s family in order to turn toward Jesus.
It is not likely that in this country that you or I will ever be dragged out of our homes because we profess to follow Jesus. But what is likely, is that in our day to day relating to the world around us…we are making decisions that reflect whether or not we are making Jesus our top priority. Speaking from personal experience, there are times when putting Jesus first in our lives will cost us our jobs, our homes,…and perhaps even our friends and our families. Make no mistake, what Jesus really does want us to know is that discipleship costs all that we have, all that we love, all that we are. And if we think that Jesus is being a bit overly dramatic in making his point, that somehow we can have our cake and yes, eat it too…then maybe we are the ones who have forgotten what following Jesus is all about.
It begins with remembering that we are walking in the footsteps of one heck of a savior. His tool of choice was none other than the cross that he died on. And yet, we all know that it was Jesus who carried his cross with him every single day…long before he entered the city of Jerusalem. The point is, he was always willing to share it with us…even letting us get underneath it with him in order to feel the weight. Not because he wanted us to suffer, but because he wanted us to know how alive you can feel under something so heavy. Suffering pales in comparison to what God is able to do through it, through us, all because we chose to follow the way.
It really is not for everyone. That is clearly what he is trying to tell us. There just aren’t a lot of people who have what it takes to shoulder the cross. Myself included. But I do not think that that means we are simply left to fend for ourselves. It is for the rest of us…that he chose to take the weight upon himself. And if in our professed weakness, we cannot help him carry it…even now he will carry us too. It could just be that he doesn’t want us to ever take it for granted. And that he wants us to know…and remember…what it cost.