In the passage of Luke 14:25-33, Jesus Christ rolls out the conditions for Christian discipleship in rather harsh, uncompromising and no-nonsense terms. He says: “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” And after illustrating these conditions with two parables, he adds “none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.”
The text is on the necessity of facing squarely the challenge of Christian discipleship, and making one’s commitment only after diligently calculating the costs, the demand, the price or the sacrifice involved in Christian witnessing. Jesus challenges people to figure out for themselves the cost of Christian discipleship and consider whether they have the resources to meet that cost, if they are truly to be equal to the task. Otherwise they would fail mid-way through, and make themselves a laughing stock, like the foolish man who decided to build a tower without first calculating the cost, or the king who decided to go to war with his opponent without first assessing the strength of his army against his opponent’s army.
Following Jesus implies a surrender of the whole of oneself and the whole of one’s life. He calls us to surrender our lives so totally into God’s hands that we will not hesitate to pay the ultimate price, when we are called upon to do so for the sake of the Kingdom. Martyrdom, that is the giving away of one’s life in Christian witnessing for the sake of the Kingdom is the epitome of Christian commitment. Martyrdom is Christian discipleship carried to its logical conclusion. The Christian Church pays great tribute and accords great honour to its martyrs, believing that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We have numerous examples of real martyrdom in the early Church and through the course of the two thousand years of Christianity.
The passage under consideration is a tough one. It brings to bear the seriousness of the Kingdom of God that Jesus has come to inaugurate through the giving of his body and the shedding of his blood. Christian discipleship is costly. For Jesus Christ there is no cheap grace. He demands total commitment. Many of those who came to Jesus in those days, and many who are still crowding our churches today are looking for cheap grace. They seek Jesus in order to recover from their sicknesses. They seek Jesus in order to become rich. They seek Jesus in order to escape poverty. They seek Jesus in order to find the husband of their dream. They seek Jesus in order to find security in our violent society. They are there in their thousands, shouting “alleluia” when it comes to healing, deliverance and what they call prosperity “prosperity extravaganza.” But that is about all. When the Lord makes serious demands of them and any object of their passion, they often fail to deliver. In seeking after Jesus, people often want change, but not the total change that Jesus wants to bring about. Jesus wants to give his followers another life, another vision, another option. He wants to give his followers a totally new orientation, with life-transforming and life-enhancing values, where selfishness, greed and avarice shall be banished for ever, and where sacrificial love brotherhood and solidarity will come to stay. This is what the Lord has in store for his people, but often the followers want to hold on to the old life, the old vision and the old values.
Jesus turns around today and asks his numerous followers: “Do you really know what you are bargaining for when you say you want to follow me? Christian discipleship implies an all-consuming loyalty to me. Have you calculated the cost of such discipleship? Are you ready to turn your back against the values and orientations of the men and women of your generation and of your country? Are you willing to abandon your old, selfish and corrupt, self in order to follow me? Are you ready to abandon yourself with all your possessions and human attachments, in order to follow me? Can you take that risk?”
Jesus emphasizes that the giving up of possessions is a fundamental pre-condition for entry into the Kingdom. Indeed the desire to accumulate possessions, wealth and power is the greatest enemy of the Christian. This is why a major part of the cost of discipleship is giving up our search for wealth. True discipleship involves having no security other than total commitment to him. And this is a price many people are not ready to pay.
True, the Lord does not want premature, half-hearted commitment. He does not want anyone rushing into instant commitment, like declaring publicly “I am born again,” after an emotionally uplifting crusade, but without taking into serious cognizance the short and long-term sacrifices involved in such commitment. Following Jesus requires careful thought and calculation. It demands re-ordering of our values and relationships. It cannot be business as usual. Answering the call of Christ must affect the disciple profoundly. Anything less is not worthy of him.
A serious disciple must prefer the requirements of the Kingdom to any claim that family, clannish or tribal relationships or affinities may impose. This may lead to opposition and rejection in the family. Commitment to him and to his kingdom must remain absolute, so that no human relationship or material circumstance will interfere with it. To any serious disciple, the Lord comes first before possessions, before loved ones, and even before self. To follow Jesus, we must relativise our most natural and legitimate loves. Our relationship with those we love and cherish most in the world must be seen only in the light of our relationship with Christ. Nothing, and no one can or should compete with Jesus in our lives.
True Christian discipleship demands that one must carry one’s cross daily and follow the path that Jesus himself trod. Carrying one’s cross is another way of describing Christian discipleship. The road to his Kingdom is narrow, winding and rough. It is paved with rejection, persecution, pain and sacrifice. One can therefore not follow Jesus casually. The religion Jesus preaches is indeed a difficult one. To gain admission into the Kingdom of God one has to be ready to lose all that the world holds dear, including the traditional attachment to family, the normal human craving for pleasure, and the widespread ambition for wealth and power. No wonder the Evangelist John records that after such harsh teachings, many of his followers often abandon him. Those who betrayed and denied him were from among his closest associates. At some point his family members were so worried that they sought to take him away, believing that he was getting out of his mind.
Just how does one follow a man who asks that we hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, as a precondition to following him? How does one follow a man who says we should leave the dead to bury their dead and come follow him? How does one follow a man who says we should forgive for as many times as someone hurts us? How does one follow a man who says we should turn the other cheek to the one that slaps us on the right cheek? How does one follow a man who says that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? How does one follow a man who says that for us to be first, we must make ourselves last and servant of all?
At the end of the day it is the Lord who gives the grace. It is he who supplies the strength. On our own we can do nothing. We need his powerful presence, and the presence of his Spirit to reorder our values, orientations, priorities and relationships. We need his grace to make the kind of commitment he requires of us. May He grant us that grace today.