The Cost of Discipleship
Anyone reading today’s Gospel might well find themselves thinking: “Jesus, you can’t be serious!” Just three weeks ago we read from the Gospel of Luke: “Do not think I have come to establish peace on earth. No, I tell you, but rather division.” Lk. 12: 51 And the passage goes on to speak of a father against a son, a mother against her daughter. This seems so contrary to the Jesus we have come to know. And then we have today’s passage which speaks of “hating father and mother, wife, and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life” Lk. 14: 26 What can possibly be going on in these passages.
Before jumping to some erroneous conclusions, we need to learn from little children about human speech. Consider the child who for example wants the latest version of a video game or the most up to date cell phone. When making their case to a parent the child will often say: “But mom or dad, EVERYONE else has one!” Now, has this child taken a poll of every child on the planet to determine that they are the only one missing this essential item for life? Hardly. But we as humans can be very dramatic. In order to make a case about something that we think is so essential, we want to raise the stakes and so we use speech to exaggerate. We change the pitch of our voice and often times our gestures. We become very dramatic: “But I need this …” This use of language is called “hyperbole”. And guess what, we are not the first generation of humans to utilize this form of human communication.
Consequently, when we are reading a particular saying of Jesus, we have to apply some context and we have to consider the kind of speech Jesus is using. For context we have to read the whole Gospel and read it along with the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and John. For example, the same Gospel of Luke which records the passages quoted above records the announcement of the angels to the shepherds upon the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those upon whom his favor rests.” Lk. 2: 14 Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, speaks a powerful hymn about his son who will go before the Lord to teach the way of forgiveness because of the “tender mercy of God.” Lk 1: 78 In Chapter 7 we hear Jesus speak of love enemies and not judging or condemning. And one of the final scenes of Luke’s Gospel presents the words of Jesus to the thief crucified with him: “…today you will be with me in Paradise.” Lk. 23: 43. By focusing our attention on context, how a passage fits into the whole of the Gospel, we at least learn Jesus may be a more complex individual than we thought. We also learn that we can’t just pick and choose what to believe about Jesus. The Gospels are never afraid of presenting the multiple dimensions of a Jesus who can be consoling and comforting and a Jesus who is never afraid to shake up the status quo.
And so I would like to suggest that today’s passage needs context because the words used are incredibly dramatic. I think that they need to be dramatic because we often need to be aroused from our lethargy and just going about living our lives with little thought. Hearing someone challenge the basic relationships that bring joy and love into our lives, the relationships of family and friendship, certainly gets our attention. Not only do we need to be aroused from our lethargy about the true meaning of discipleship, we need to remember what we are reading in the Gospel of Luke: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. All of His teaching is focused in a more dramatic way because He is aware of the terrible price He is going to pay to express God’s love for all of us. And He wants His disciples not to get distracted. The tug of family and friendship can often be our excuse for not doing the right thing or enduring the hard thing.
Generations of humans grew up in families that took slavery for granted. How difficult it must have been for a son or a daughter to challenge a mother or father or uncles and aunts who were quite comfortable allowing this practice to continue. How difficult for an heir to a business focused on profit as its primary principal to propose that true profit included the care and nurturing of the employees who helped produce the profit. Imagine a young man or woman, hearing the pleading of their parents, but daring nonetheless to enter into the service in a time of war even knowing that it might cost them their life. All of these young people understood that the call to change the world or to rescue it from tyranny might cost them, at least temporarily, the respect of the people who gave birth to them.
Jesus challenges anyone who is willing to hear. Discipleship is not for the faint of heart. Discipleship is costly. To serve God above all things and to work on behalf of His kingdom requires a singlemindedness and commitment that is not so easy. Let the words of Jesus challenge you today about your commitment to living your faith.