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Joining with the crowds around Jesus may be free and easy, but discipleship is an individual commitment which will cost a person everything!
Great multitudes went with Him. Jesus turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it--lest, after he has laid the foundation, is not able to finish and all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'
"Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.
"So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"
Luke 14:25-35 NKJV, condensed
Hate is a jolting word and coming from the lips of Jesus, totally unexpected. He once told us to love our enemies; now we hear him say we are to hate our parents, spouse and children, siblings and even ourselves! Large crowds were merging together behind Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Not only did he want people to come to him, he was seeking people who would stay the course. Like salt, more was not better. What faster technique for thinning the crowds than to say something reprehensible! Those who disapproved his language, dropped away; those who knew the messenger, would just have to trust the message.
Which leaves us with some hard words to decipher. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lost his life in a concentration camp a few days before German troops surrendered to the Allied forces in 1945, commented on this passage in his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship. Here are some of his points. Every person comes to Christ, not as part of a group, but separate and alone. We, on the other hand, much prefer the security of holding hands when we face our Lord. To overcome our dependence on other people and to promote our dependence upon him alone, Jesus spoke of "hating" father and mother. It symbolized the letting go of the security and protection of loved ones. Jesus demanded a break with the supportive world we have heretofore created for ourselves. Discipleship requires that we allow our closest relationships to be pushed away into the background so Jesus can be front and center, the focus of our gaze.
Bonhoeffer continued with this image. Jesus is the Mediator who stands between each disciple and God, between each disciple and all of their contacts, plans, needs and desires. A disciple relates to spouse, friends, and all family members through Christ who stands in the middle. We do not deal with the world or with our neighbor except through Christ, his teachings and our following of him. We love the world only with the love wherewith God loved it in Jesus Christ. Any person, possession, plan which tries to circumvent the Mediator, we must "hate" and dismiss immediately, because whatever does not come to us through Christ, is not from God.
Wow--that's deep. The love we have for our families must be like hate compared to the love we share with Jesus! Are you willing to do this? Is this the desire of your heart? That's what Jesus was asking the crowd. In essence, you don't want to go any further unless you intend to finish the course and go all the way. Otherwise you would feel the shame of someone who started to build before counting the cost of completing the project. Or suffer the regrets of a king who rushed off to war without first determining if he had a good chance of winning. Because such foolishness would bring down his kingdom and make slaves of his subjects on terms dictated by the enemy.
The Message Bible summaries this section: "Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be my disciple. Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it's useless, good for nothing. Are you listening to this? Really listening?" Did we hear this--without follow-through, we are "good for nothing" players!
Loved ones need not fear these challenges of Jesus. When I relate to someone through the life and love and teachings of the Mediator, the bottom line is that I will love them more, not less. I will extend the same loving kindness, mercy and forgiveness which I have received from our common heavenly Father. Jesus divides in order to unite us in a more sustainable bond.
Any disciple who, because of his or her love for God, loses the affections of any family member, is compensated many times over. Bonhoeffer concludes-- although we enter discipleship alone, we do not remain alone. We receive new fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers within the fellowship of the Church. Such is the grace granted to us as members of the community of the cross.
One final note. There are paradoxes in our holy Scriptures. And I believe this opposite saying is also true. Anyone who follows Jesus and loves not their father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters for Jesus' sake, cannot be his disciple! Love, too, is the salt of the earth and when love loses its flavor, it is useless and unfit for service in God's kingdom. Oh, the mysteries of faith and trust in our unseen Lord. When we "hate" the world to the point of giving Jesus preeminence, we will love the world much better!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Name something from your life experience that came at a high cost.
Discuss your reaction to Jesus using the word "hate" in this passage. Does it hold shock value and make us think seriously about discipleship? Surely he didn't mean animosity, so what sense of the word "hate" was he highlighting?
Jesus often used family relationships as a pattern for divine-human interaction. Give some examples of this.In what ways have you been strengthened in your faith by family members? When has the protective and possessive elements of love crippled your commitment? Why would the champion of love and unity call for hatred and severance?
How do you separate the claim of God on your life from the claims which other people make on you? What does it mean to you for God to have priority? Does loyalty to Jesus leave family relationships impoverished or strengthened? To what extent are your loved ones better off when God has first place?Who sits on the throne of your heart? Is God the owner of everything you have?
What does this statement mean to you?--Salvation may be free, but discipleship is costly.
The shame of not finishing a building project and the regrets of surrender-- Show how these illustrations fit into the theme of this passage? How is it possible to count the cost of discipleship when we have no idea what lies ahead? Is anyone capable of the kind of commitment Jesus required?We can be grateful for the example of the 12 disciples in the Gospel accounts. They were far from perfect and that should encourage us. If Jesus wasn't demanding a perfect love, what kind of love does he want?
Jesus my Mediator, stands between me and my loved ones, between me and my wants and desires. Everything coming in or going out from me passes through Jesus. All my thoughts, plans, projects, and ambitions filter through him.Try to be aware and picture Jesus in the position of Mediator in your life. Test it for an hour, a day or a week. Then assess the impact of this image for you.