Luke 14:25-35, The Cost of Discipleship

[September 8, 2013] Right now Christians are being persecuted and killed in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. Over sixty churches and the buildings associated with them (hospitals, schools, etc.) have been burned. It is so bad that even moderate Muslims have given their lives in defense of Christians. To this day Christians are the most persecuted people in the world. This is not the expression of religious paranoia or a “persecution complex”; it is factual. At the same time, in the United States, while Christians are certainly are mocked, they are not persecuted, even though they are occasionally arrested for crimes of conscience. Nevertheless, the news media in such countries as the United States turn a blind eye to the awful persecution of Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Today’s lectionary text (Luke 14:25-33) speaks about the cost for those who wish to be His disciples. Christians in the United States can blend pretty well with their culture, especially in regions where a fair proportion of the population still attend religious services and identify themselves as Christians. They may have no sense of what Jesus is talking about. Yet if a Christian were to be faithful to Christ, there is no way the Christian could mix comfortably with the “Christian culture” of this country (the U.S.A.). That person may not be persecuted, but neither would that person’s evaluation of things and way of life be acceptable. After all, the “Christian culture” of the United States is as secular as its surroundings and mimics the same values, even its consumerism, worship of mammon, its delusion of free will, and its aggressive materialism. The Christian mythos is a veneer and justification for something that is not merely pagan or post-christian but antichristian.

The Invitation to the Feast of the Kingdom of God (Luke 14:1-25)

When Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to a meal and with an audience of lawyers (Halakah experts) and Pharisees, He defended His posture of taking the lowest place and inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” to the feast of the kingdom of God. One of those at the table said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” In response Jesus told them a story about a man who gave a big dinner but each of his honored guests made an excuse not to come; always something else took priority. So he sent his servant out “into the streets and lanes of the city” and to bring in “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” There was still room, so he sent out his servant “into the highways and along the hedges” to compel people to come in. But those who were originally invited, none of them “shall taste of my dinner.”

Jesus’ audience felt assured that they were among the blessed who would eat bread in the kingdom of God, even if Jesus felt justified in inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” After all, they were among the righteous who kept the Halakah. The import of Jesus’ story, however, is that they had been (or were being) invited and they were all turning the invitation down! At the beginning of their meal (at least in the course of Luke’s narration of it), Jesus had healed a very sick man. In view of a similar Sabbath-healing in 13:10-17 (and its resonance with 11:20), we might be justified in saying that the miracle took place by “the finger of God” and that kingdom of God had come upon them, that is, upon the people at the table who beheld the miracle. They were being invited to the feast of the kingdom of God; they were being invited to the messianic feast of which Jesus is the host. Nor did this come to them out of the blue; this invitation had been coming to them all along. John the Baptist had invited them, and before that, the Scriptures that they purportedly paid so much attention to—Moses!—had been inviting them Sabbath by Sabbath. Yet each of them had an excuse: one was preoccupied with his land, another with his oxen, and another with his wife (that is, property, means of livelihood, and family). The invitation was a call to repentance: to treat God as if God were real (and not just a cultural symbol), to agree with, accept and submit to God’s judgment on the entire human project (including our religion), and to love God in the accepting of it, and to love one’s neighbor and take joy in the creation. Now that the kingdom of God was in their midst, that is, the Messiah “stood” among them, however, the grace of God was being offered to them. Without God’s grace we cannot even comprehend what this invitation is asking of us. By coming to Jesus, repentance becomes possible, for He is the exemplar and giver of repentance. But no; they were not impressed with His words. To them Jesus is preposterous.

Therefore, according to the story Jesus told them, in which the man giving the big dinner is God (compare verses 15 and 16), Jesus is this man’s servant—literally his slave—and is sent by him to round up the poor and crippled and blind and lame and even compel those on the highway and along the hedges to come in.

Then verse 25 says, “Now large crowds were going along with Him.” These are the very same people to whom Jesus’ story about the big dinner referred. They are the poor and crippled and blind and lame and the people on the streets and along the hedges: the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and even some gentiles. The call of the Gospel (the story or good news of Jesus coming, and its significance) is given freely to all, inviting all of them to the banqueting feast of the kingdom of God.

You, whoever you are, are invited to the same. Grace is free: that is why it is called “grace” (as in gracious, gratuitous, etc.). You do not need to qualify in any way other than to come to Jesus. We are needy: the sinful, the handicapped, and the poor. Or we may just be a bystander, not particularly needy, or a complainer or one to feel sorry about oneself.

Almost everyone seems to admire Jesus, and for good reason, and we may consider them a part of the large crowds that go along with Him as He walks.

The Condition for Being a Disciple (14:26-27)

Jesus is walking to Jerusalem. The crowds are beginning to think that “the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” once He got there (Luke 19:11). In fact, however, Jesus was going to His death, and knew it (Luke 13:33). And yes, He will be glorified by the Father for His obedience “at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 9:44; 14:14), though in His case, that resurrection will take place before the resurrection of all others. He will be the firstborn of the dead (and Luke tells us that He knew this too: Luke 9:22). Nevertheless, His eye is on the pathway of obedience that He is treading. In view of what is to come, He is already carrying His cross just as surely as if this “cross” were physical, for He is on His way to the gallows.

He says to these large crowds, “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 soul, he cannot be My disciple.” Period. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” These are two conditions, to which He adds a third in verse 33: “None of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

“In other words,” and here I am paraphrasing, “you are all invited to become My disciples, but if you want to be My disciple you have to do more than follow along with Me. You have to make an absolute choice. You have to give Me your unconditional loyalty that not family, not possessions, not even your own survival can supersede or interfere with. The ‘way’ of discipleship is not a ‘way of life’ that you adopt; it is unconditional fealty to My Person. A new way of life will come from that, but it is secondary. What I ask is your complete and exclusive fidelity to Me. This is what ‘faith’ in Me means. Faith is not believing certain propositions about Me.”

Let us break this down. “If anyone comes to Me”—as you have all done—“and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters … he cannot be My disciple.” Jesus uses the word hate. It is shocking. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Some would say these are equivalent: that to love less is to hate. They point to an Aramaic root. But Luke understood what he wrote; he understood the meaning of his translation. To hate is a very strong word.

Matthew Henry says it means a willingness to “quit” those who are very dear to oneself; to comparatively hate them; our comfort and satisfaction in them must be lost and swallowed up in our love to Christ; if we must either deny Christ or be banished from our loved ones, we must rather lose their society than His favor.

In the old Interpreter’s Commentary published by Barnes (no author or date is available to me), we are reminded that Jesus uses language accurately, and that hate is predicated of God (Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 44:4; Amos 5:21; Romans 12:9; Revelation 2:6). The meaning is that “whatever and whoever becomes an obstacle to this attainment is, in so far, to be abhorred as an evil thing, an enmity to the soul and to God, and to be abhorred just in the measure in which the natural affection makes the obstacle great and the temptation severe” (italics are the author’s). The author cites Jesus’ reaction to Peter when Peter tempted Him (Matthew 16:22-23). “This hate of the world and the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15) may be dormant in the Christian experience, but it must be there, to spring into activity, as protection against temptation, whenever even the most sacred earthly relations become instruments of temptation.”

The Interpreter’s Bible (several authors, 1952, page 259) reminds us that Jesus does not shy away from paradox. “The word means that they were to act as if they hated loved ones whenever the claims of home came into conflict with the claims of Jesus.” Jesus “demanded a primary and undivided allegiance.” “He asked an instant and unqualified loyalty.”

Joseph A. Fitzmeyer in The Anchor Bible (1985, page 1062) speaks of “the willingness to leave family ties,” and “a willingness to put parents, family, relatives … in subordination to discipleship.” Translating J. Schmid, he says, “Only the person who is capable of a radical and painful decision, to set all natural, human relations behind the connection with Jesus … can really become a disciple of Jesus.”

Witness Lee tells us in his Life-Study (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1985, page 285) that it is not Christ’s intention that we hate anyone. “Rather, His intention is to teach us to hate the frustrations and distractions.” He reminds us that the Lord teaches us to love others, not only the members of our family but even our enemies; we are even to love ourselves. The Lord’s teaching here is that “this kind of love often frustrates us from the proper and faithful enjoyment of Christ. What we should hate is … the distractions, frustrations, hindrances, and obstacles. He teaches us to hate whatever keeps us from following Him faithfully.”

So if we can summarize, Jesus is telling the people that if they want to become His disciple, they have to hate, not their family members but, any ties of loyalty to them that would in any way attempt to get in the way of their loyalty, allegiance, and fidelity to Jesus. One may be tied to them by bonds of obligation and affection, but when it comes to Jesus, one has to act as if those bonds do not exist. “Who are My mother and My brothers? Whoever does the will of My Father Who is in heaven” or “the will of God,” or “these who hear the word of God and do it” (Matthew 12:48-50; Mark 3:33-35; Luke 8:21).

While Christians ought to have affections and bear their responsibilities for their loved ones, when it comes to the call of Jesus, they are to exercise an absolute freedom with respect to all these other ties and give Jesus whatever He claims. While this must be said, a Christian is still to show love and humility towards his or her loved ones, not arrogance and inconsideration. The Christian must be willing to make the decision in favor of Jesus, and allow it to be painful, not cold-hearted, even if they are misunderstood. You may have allowed others to run your life; Jesus is saying that if you are going to be His disciple, you have to take charge of your own life—and then give it to Him.

“Yes, and even his own soul,” Jesus adds. Whoever does not hold his own soul in the same sort of contempt “cannot be My disciple.” This means, on the surface of it, a willingness to give up one’s life in martyrdom. No one can be a disciple of Jesus who is not willing to be a martyr if put to the test. Our allegiance to Jesus (our “faith” in Him) needs to go this far. Of course, we do not know that we have this willingness until it is put to the test, but this—nevertheless—is the condition Jesus lays down.

Jesus said this to His disciples in Luke 9:23-24 and will repeat it in 17:33. Here Jesus is putting the same demand up front to those who are not yet His disciples, to the crowds.

One’s soul is one’s life, but it is also more than that. It is one’s identity, one’s self-awareness, the self of which one is conscious (though it is created by that of which one is not conscious). It is the “constructed” self, the self that you—and others—constructs during the course of your life within the matrix of your world. It is, in other words, an artifice, and in fact, a false self. Not only one’s physical life but this soul one must be willing to lose, and in fact, we need to lose in the course of following Jesus. It is our willingness to do so that is the condition of discipleship here. There is a soul that is saved when we lose our soul (this constructed self). It is our true soul. Jesus and the apostles speak of saving this soul. They both, however, insist that the only way to save the soul is to lose it. (I do not mean that there are two souls; rather that there is a mirage of a soul that masks the true soul, though this mirage acts and seems very real to us.)

When Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” He means that by becoming a disciple one is on the way to one’s death, one’s martyrdom and execution at the hands of the world. It may not in fact happen, though as I began, for many Christians it is a physical and biological and social reality. Yet to take up one’s own cross means that we are willing to pay this price for the sake of following Jesus. It means, too, that we are willing to lose not only our life (which might be comparatively easy), but everything that is our own (see verse 33), our property, our livelihood, our family, and everything with which we identify ourselves. A Christian cannot have an attachment of which she or he is not willing to let go. Whatever attachment there may be, it has to be loose, for there can be no turning back (“Remember Lot’s wife!” Luke 17:32).

This does not mean that we do not have strong desires and strong feelings. Actually, they are there. For without them we do not love Jesus. But we must be willing to “deny” one when it comes to the other, to be able to make that choice. (For one is actually trying to substitute for the other.)

Counting the Cost (14:28-32)

Yet who is sufficient for these things? for we all often fail. Jesus gives two examples of people planning ahead and making sure they have enough resources to complete what they are setting out to do. One is to build a tower and the other is to win a battle. What I am afraid of is that if we do count the cost, we will all find that we do not have what it takes. Most commentaries overlook this. They interpret these two examples as Jesus’ way of telling us to take His demand very seriously before we jump ahead. If we do not think we can deal with His demands, it is better not to attempt it.

I beg to differ. I think the demand that Jesus lays before us all is to repent. This demand was there before He came along. It is in the Torah and the Prophets and it was the message of John the Baptist. If this is the demand, I do not have the resources to complete the job. I have tried and failed. “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” It cannot be done! But “the things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:18-30). I have counted the cost and it is more than I can pay. What do I do now? I give up all that is my own and give myself to Jesus. It is our allegiance to Jesus that makes it possible. He makes it possible. The cost I am unable to pay; He is able to, and He enables me when I come to Him and give myself unconditionally to Him. The cost that I am not able to pay is not my coming to Him, it is my trying to come to God (by repentance) apart from Him.

In the first example, we are reminded of how people used to start towers and not finish them. Apparently even Herod had done this. They did not prepare their resources in advance. Our “tower” may be our spiritual edifice, whether individually or collectively (see Matthew 7:24; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17; 8:1—where “edifies” means build—and 1 Peter 2:5). It rises up to the heavens upon a proper foundation. This is very noble, but it is also costly.

The Interpreter’s Commentary (page 90) says, “In framing the resolution to begin a Christian life, it is necessary to consider what it will cost, of self-renunciation, to maintain a consistent Christian character. The result of this counting the cost is always the discovery, I have not sufficient to finish; then comes either the abandonment of the plan, before it is fairly undertaken, or a going unto Christ, who is our only and our complete sufficiency in and for all things (2 Corinthians 3:5).”

Frederick W. Grant, the Plymouth Brethren Bible expositor, comments, “Thus the effect of reckoning may seem mere discouragement; and so it is meant to be, from all mere levity, and from all self-confidence: if you are setting out in either of these moods, you may as  well give up at once. If, on the other hand, you are in serious earnest, the Lord’s words are meant only to cast you upon resources better than your own, and all-sufficient” (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1897).

I think of Peter’s reaction when Jesus predicted that he would deny Him. “Even though all may fall away because of You, I would never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33; see Matthew 26:35). “I will lay down my soul for you” (John 13:37). Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your soul for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (John 13:38). See, Peter did not know himself. He had not counted up the cost of following Jesus. Does that mean that if he had, he should never have attempted to follow Him? Of course not. All that follows in John 14—16 tells us what the solution is: Jesus’ own indwelling through the Holy Spirit, a solution that we never really avail ourselves of without true self-knowledge.

In the second example, we are a king with ten thousand soldiers facing an enemy with twenty thousand. Perhaps this alludes to our attempts to overcome the world. We are outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered. It is natural to ask for terms of peace, otherwise the world will leave us with nothing, our reputation in shreds, our property lost, and perhaps without a friend.

Again, the Interpreter’s Commentary (page 90) says, “No man can enter upon the life-campaign against the world, the flesh, and the devil, without alliance with and reinforcements from an Almighty Savior.”

Unless we interpret the enemy to be God, in which case we had better ask for terms of peace right away. This is an unlikely interpretation unless we interpret the tower to be a military watch tower. Then the meaning of the two examples will be different. Jesus would be telling us that it is better to forsake all to become His disciple than to attempt to resist the call of God. If we count the cost of staying in our present state, we will find that we cannot possibly succeed. The more sensible alternative would be to give up whatever we must in order to whole-heartedly commit ourselves to Jesus.

Choosing Christ (14:33)

If we are bound to exhaust all our resources in a vain attempt to save ourselves, the better alternative is to turn to Christ and give Him our all. “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” The word translated possessions here (a participle of hyparchō) means what is one’s own, one’s substance or property. It includes “father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even [one’s] own soul,” but also one’s other property.

If we cast ourselves entirely into the hands of Jesus, He will hold us up. This is the call of discipleship.

If we are to give the Gospel according to Luke a fair reading, we probably have to accept that Jesus included our material possessions when He said that we must give up all that is our own. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible makes this case for four full pages (pages 247-251). We have a habit of watering down what we do not like, but Jesus is clear enough. (I would love to elaborate, but as I write this I am suffering in body and do not have enough concentration for the task; I apologize.)

It is not that Jesus opposes the use of material things. It is our possession of them. Possession means that I am entitled to exclusive use of something, whether I use it or not: it thus “belongs” to me. To accumulate possessions as we do is simply not acceptable, for the more we have, the less we can actually use, and as long as we have them, others are not entitled to use them.

Nevertheless, discipleship does not always mean that we have absolutely nothing. It does mean that we live simply, that we identify with the poor, and that, as we make use of things, we are always mindful of what others lack, and are thus ready to share and to contribute to their lives with what we have. In this world, as it is and not as we idealize it, we cannot ignore the poor and the needs of the poor.

The Franciscan value of living in poverty is not a sort of self-denying asceticism or self-inflicted suffering. The idea instead is that creation is bountiful and has all that we need, but also that it does not belong to anyone; no one can own any part of it. God provides it for all of us to care for and make use of (with the needs of all other creatures in mind), but not to own. God is its only Owner. But God grants it for us to use, to use, however, on the basis of honest human need. We use then only what we truly need, living simply that others may simply live. See Michael Cusato’s essay, “Commercium: From the Profane to the Sacred” in Francis of Assisi: History, Hagiography and Hermeneutics in the Early Documents, edited by Jay M. Hammond (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004) pages 179-209.

Saltiness (14:34-35)

Jesus is still talking to the crowds when He says, “Therefore, salt is good.” He warns them, however, that the salt must not become tasteless, for then it becomes good for nothing. Salt has a number of uses: it seasons food; it is a preservative (without refrigeration it was essential for preserving food); it has healing properties; it purifies things; it is also used as a fertilizer for certain kinds of vegetables. It is necessary for life but it also has properties that kill germs. What are we to make of Jesus’ use of it in this context?

Salt without saltiness is of course a useless substance. Salt in itself is a valuable substance and can be heavily taxed. It is also a stable substance that does not naturally lose its taste. However, some people for the sake of profit will mix other elements with it (such as gypsum) and thus render it tasteless. It would be very disappointing to buy salt and to take it home and find out that it had no taste! It is good for nothing at all.

In Matthew 5:13 Jesus says that those whom He has called are the salt of the earth. This probably refers to salt’s ability to preserve things. In Mark 9:50 the salt is some quality in the disciples that enables them to live at peace with one another. What about in this context?

F. W. Grant says that the savorless salt is the label of discipleship without its corresponding reality. But what is the quality here that makes discipleship “real”?

Matthew Henry interprets this tasteless salt to be an apostate Christian, “degenerate Christians, who, rather than part with what they have in the world, will throw up their profession.” This interpretation assumes that these apostate Christians are the ones who have taken the step of profession and have not counted the cost.

Witness Lee says believers need to have a certain taste, saltiness, which they get from renouncing all things for the sake of Christ. If they fail to renounce all, they are neither fit for the kingdom (the soil) nor for the manure pile (hell), but have to be “thrown out,” which he interprets to be the place of discipline. Since they are believers they are not fit for hell, but since they are unfaithful they are not fit for the kingdom either. The alternative is the place of outer darkness where they are disciplined by the Lord until they are fit for the kingdom. Though it is true that only those fit for the kingdom can enter it, and when they die not all believers, for sure, will be fit for the kingdom. And it is also true that a believer who comes short is not thereby assigned to perdition. Nevertheless, it does not seem reasonable to say that the “third” place, where most of us for sure must spend some time, is what the Lord would call the garbage. Nor does it seem to me that the soil and the manure pile correspond to the kingdom and perdition respectively. From an agricultural point of view, manure does not qualify as such a negative symbol. It is in fact a fertilizer for the soil, as also salt can be.

The Interpreter’s Commentary says that “the savor is the spirit of self-sacrifice.” The Interpreter’s Bible says pretty much the same, that saltiness is “readiness to sacrifice comfort and even life for Jesus’ sake.” For Christianity to have no taste is to lose “its readiness to carry the cross, because it has been adulterated by compromise with the world’s standards.” Joseph A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible says that “coming on the heels of the three conditions of discipleship set forth in verses 25-33, in which the question was entirely about the relation of the disciples to Jesus, the similitude has to be understood of the same relationship. Salt expresses the willingness of the disciple to offer himself/herself in allegiance to Jesus.”

In other words, if we want to become a disciple of Jesus but are not willing to hate your loved ones and relatives (as discussed above) and even your own life and soul, to carry your own cross to the gallows, and to give up all your own possessions, then you will be tasteless salt—good for nothing! You may have the label, but you are not the genuine article.

Remember the feast of the kingdom of God? Jesus has taken the least place and has gone out to gather the poor and crippled and blind and lame, and has gone into the highways and along the hedges to gather the likes of us. But the meal has to be seasoned with real salt! If the salt has no taste it is thrown out. You may be invited, but to enter and enjoy the feast, you have to have salt—real salt.

Luke 14:25-35, The Cost of Discipleship

[September 8, 2013] Right now Christians are being persecuted and killed in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. Over sixty churches and the buildings associated with them (hospitals, schools, etc.) have been burned. It is so bad that even moderate Muslims have given their lives in defense of Christians. To this day Christians are the most persecuted people in the world. This is not the expression of religious paranoia or a “persecution complex”; it is factual. At the same time, in the United States, while Christians are certainly are mocked, they are not persecuted, even though they are occasionally arrested for crimes of conscience. Nevertheless, the news media in such countries as the United States turn a blind eye to the awful persecution of Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Today’s lectionary text (Luke 14:25-33) speaks about the cost for those who wish to be His disciples. Christians in the United States can blend pretty well with their culture, especially in regions where a fair proportion of the population still attend religious services and identify themselves as Christians. They may have no sense of what Jesus is talking about. Yet if a Christian were to be faithful to Christ, there is no way the Christian could mix comfortably with the “Christian culture” of this country (the U.S.A.). That person may not be persecuted, but neither would that person’s evaluation of things and way of life be acceptable. After all, the “Christian culture” of the United States is as secular as its surroundings and mimics the same values, even its consumerism, worship of mammon, its delusion of free will, and its aggressive materialism. The Christian mythos is a veneer and justification for something that is not merely pagan or post-christian but antichristian.

The Invitation to the Feast of the Kingdom of God (Luke 14:1-25)

When Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to a meal and with an audience of lawyers (Halakah experts) and Pharisees, He defended His posture of taking the lowest place and inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” to the feast of the kingdom of God. One of those at the table said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” In response Jesus told them a story about a man who gave a big dinner but each of his honored guests made an excuse not to come; always something else took priority. So he sent his servant out “into the streets and lanes of the city” and to bring in “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” There was still room, so he sent out his servant “into the highways and along the hedges” to compel people to come in. But those who were originally invited, none of them “shall taste of my dinner.”

Jesus’ audience felt assured that they were among the blessed who would eat bread in the kingdom of God, even if Jesus felt justified in inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” After all, they were among the righteous who kept the Halakah. The import of Jesus’ story, however, is that they had been (or were being) invited and they were all turning the invitation down! At the beginning of their meal (at least in the course of Luke’s narration of it), Jesus had healed a very sick man. In view of a similar Sabbath-healing in 13:10-17 (and its resonance with 11:20), we might be justified in saying that the miracle took place by “the finger of God” and that kingdom of God had come upon them, that is, upon the people at the table who beheld the miracle. They were being invited to the feast of the kingdom of God; they were being invited to the messianic feast of which Jesus is the host. Nor did this come to them out of the blue; this invitation had been coming to them all along. John the Baptist had invited them, and before that, the Scriptures that they purportedly paid so much attention to—Moses!—had been inviting them Sabbath by Sabbath. Yet each of them had an excuse: one was preoccupied with his land, another with his oxen, and another with his wife (that is, property, means of livelihood, and family). The invitation was a call to repentance: to treat God as if God were real (and not just a cultural symbol), to agree with, accept and submit to God’s judgment on the entire human project (including our religion), and to love God in the accepting of it, and to love one’s neighbor and take joy in the creation. Now that the kingdom of God was in their midst, that is, the Messiah “stood” among them, however, the grace of God was being offered to them. Without God’s grace we cannot even comprehend what this invitation is asking of us. By coming to Jesus, repentance becomes possible, for He is the exemplar and giver of repentance. But no; they were not impressed with His words. To them Jesus is preposterous.

Therefore, according to the story Jesus told them, in which the man giving the big dinner is God (compare verses 15 and 16), Jesus is this man’s servant—literally his slave—and is sent by him to round up the poor and crippled and blind and lame and even compel those on the highway and along the hedges to come in.

Then verse 25 says, “Now large crowds were going along with Him.” These are the very same people to whom Jesus’ story about the big dinner referred. They are the poor and crippled and blind and lame and the people on the streets and along the hedges: the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and even some gentiles. The call of the Gospel (the story or good news of Jesus coming, and its significance) is given freely to all, inviting all of them to the banqueting feast of the kingdom of God.

You, whoever you are, are invited to the same. Grace is free: that is why it is called “grace” (as in gracious, gratuitous, etc.). You do not need to qualify in any way other than to come to Jesus. We are needy: the sinful, the handicapped, and the poor. Or we may just be a bystander, not particularly needy, or a complainer or one to feel sorry about oneself.

Almost everyone seems to admire Jesus, and for good reason, and we may consider them a part of the large crowds that go along with Him as He walks.

The Condition for Being a Disciple (14:26-27)

Jesus is walking to Jerusalem. The crowds are beginning to think that “the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” once He got there (Luke 19:11). In fact, however, Jesus was going to His death, and knew it (Luke 13:33). And yes, He will be glorified by the Father for His obedience “at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 9:44; 14:14), though in His case, that resurrection will take place before the resurrection of all others. He will be the firstborn of the dead (and Luke tells us that He knew this too: Luke 9:22). Nevertheless, His eye is on the pathway of obedience that He is treading. In view of what is to come, He is already carrying His cross just as surely as if this “cross” were physical, for He is on His way to the gallows.

He says to these large crowds, “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 soul, he cannot be My disciple.” Period. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” These are two conditions, to which He adds a third in verse 33: “None of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

“In other words,” and here I am paraphrasing, “you are all invited to become My disciples, but if you want to be My disciple you have to do more than follow along with Me. You have to make an absolute choice. You have to give Me your unconditional loyalty that not family, not possessions, not even your own survival can supersede or interfere with. The ‘way’ of discipleship is not a ‘way of life’ that you adopt; it is unconditional fealty to My Person. A new way of life will come from that, but it is secondary. What I ask is your complete and exclusive fidelity to Me. This is what ‘faith’ in Me means. Faith is not believing certain propositions about Me.”

Let us break this down. “If anyone comes to Me”—as you have all done—“and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters … he cannot be My disciple.” Jesus uses the word hate. It is shocking. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Some would say these are equivalent: that to love less is to hate. They point to an Aramaic root. But Luke understood what he wrote; he understood the meaning of his translation. To hate is a very strong word.

Matthew Henry says it means a willingness to “quit” those who are very dear to oneself; to comparatively hate them; our comfort and satisfaction in them must be lost and swallowed up in our love to Christ; if we must either deny Christ or be banished from our loved ones, we must rather lose their society than His favor.

In the old Interpreter’s Commentary published by Barnes (no author or date is available to me), we are reminded that Jesus uses language accurately, and that hate is predicated of God (Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 44:4; Amos 5:21; Romans 12:9; Revelation 2:6). The meaning is that “whatever and whoever becomes an obstacle to this attainment is, in so far, to be abhorred as an evil thing, an enmity to the soul and to God, and to be abhorred just in the measure in which the natural affection makes the obstacle great and the temptation severe” (italics are the author’s). The author cites Jesus’ reaction to Peter when Peter tempted Him (Matthew 16:22-23). “This hate of the world and the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15) may be dormant in the Christian experience, but it must be there, to spring into activity, as protection against temptation, whenever even the most sacred earthly relations become instruments of temptation.”

The Interpreter’s Bible (several authors, 1952, page 259) reminds us that Jesus does not shy away from paradox. “The word means that they were to act as if they hated loved ones whenever the claims of home came into conflict with the claims of Jesus.” Jesus “demanded a primary and undivided allegiance.” “He asked an instant and unqualified loyalty.”

Joseph A. Fitzmeyer in The Anchor Bible (1985, page 1062) speaks of “the willingness to leave family ties,” and “a willingness to put parents, family, relatives … in subordination to discipleship.” Translating J. Schmid, he says, “Only the person who is capable of a radical and painful decision, to set all natural, human relations behind the connection with Jesus … can really become a disciple of Jesus.”

Witness Lee tells us in his Life-Study (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1985, page 285) that it is not Christ’s intention that we hate anyone. “Rather, His intention is to teach us to hate the frustrations and distractions.” He reminds us that the Lord teaches us to love others, not only the members of our family but even our enemies; we are even to love ourselves. The Lord’s teaching here is that “this kind of love often frustrates us from the proper and faithful enjoyment of Christ. What we should hate is … the distractions, frustrations, hindrances, and obstacles. He teaches us to hate whatever keeps us from following Him faithfully.”

So if we can summarize, Jesus is telling the people that if they want to become His disciple, they have to hate, not their family members but, any ties of loyalty to them that would in any way attempt to get in the way of their loyalty, allegiance, and fidelity to Jesus. One may be tied to them by bonds of obligation and affection, but when it comes to Jesus, one has to act as if those bonds do not exist. “Who are My mother and My brothers? Whoever does the will of My Father Who is in heaven” or “the will of God,” or “these who hear the word of God and do it” (Matthew 12:48-50; Mark 3:33-35; Luke 8:21).

While Christians ought to have affections and bear their responsibilities for their loved ones, when it comes to the call of Jesus, they are to exercise an absolute freedom with respect to all these other ties and give Jesus whatever He claims. While this must be said, a Christian is still to show love and humility towards his or her loved ones, not arrogance and inconsideration. The Christian must be willing to make the decision in favor of Jesus, and allow it to be painful, not cold-hearted, even if they are misunderstood. You may have allowed others to run your life; Jesus is saying that if you are going to be His disciple, you have to take charge of your own life—and then give it to Him.

“Yes, and even his own soul,” Jesus adds. Whoever does not hold his own soul in the same sort of contempt “cannot be My disciple.” This means, on the surface of it, a willingness to give up one’s life in martyrdom. No one can be a disciple of Jesus who is not willing to be a martyr if put to the test. Our allegiance to Jesus (our “faith” in Him) needs to go this far. Of course, we do not know that we have this willingness until it is put to the test, but this—nevertheless—is the condition Jesus lays down.

Jesus said this to His disciples in Luke 9:23-24 and will repeat it in 17:33. Here Jesus is putting the same demand up front to those who are not yet His disciples, to the crowds.

One’s soul is one’s life, but it is also more than that. It is one’s identity, one’s self-awareness, the self of which one is conscious (though it is created by that of which one is not conscious). It is the “constructed” self, the self that you—and others—constructs during the course of your life within the matrix of your world. It is, in other words, an artifice, and in fact, a false self. Not only one’s physical life but this soul one must be willing to lose, and in fact, we need to lose in the course of following Jesus. It is our willingness to do so that is the condition of discipleship here. There is a soul that is saved when we lose our soul (this constructed self). It is our true soul. Jesus and the apostles speak of saving this soul. They both, however, insist that the only way to save the soul is to lose it. (I do not mean that there are two souls; rather that there is a mirage of a soul that masks the true soul, though this mirage acts and seems very real to us.)

When Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” He means that by becoming a disciple one is on the way to one’s death, one’s martyrdom and execution at the hands of the world. It may not in fact happen, though as I began, for many Christians it is a physical and biological and social reality. Yet to take up one’s own cross means that we are willing to pay this price for the sake of following Jesus. It means, too, that we are willing to lose not only our life (which might be comparatively easy), but everything that is our own (see verse 33), our property, our livelihood, our family, and everything with which we identify ourselves. A Christian cannot have an attachment of which she or he is not willing to let go. Whatever attachment there may be, it has to be loose, for there can be no turning back (“Remember Lot’s wife!” Luke 17:32).

This does not mean that we do not have strong desires and strong feelings. Actually, they are there. For without them we do not love Jesus. But we must be willing to “deny” one when it comes to the other, to be able to make that choice. (For one is actually trying to substitute for the other.)

Counting the Cost (14:28-32)

Yet who is sufficient for these things? for we all often fail. Jesus gives two examples of people planning ahead and making sure they have enough resources to complete what they are setting out to do. One is to build a tower and the other is to win a battle. What I am afraid of is that if we do count the cost, we will all find that we do not have what it takes. Most commentaries overlook this. They interpret these two examples as Jesus’ way of telling us to take His demand very seriously before we jump ahead. If we do not think we can deal with His demands, it is better not to attempt it.

I beg to differ. I think the demand that Jesus lays before us all is to repent. This demand was there before He came along. It is in the Torah and the Prophets and it was the message of John the Baptist. If this is the demand, I do not have the resources to complete the job. I have tried and failed. “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” It cannot be done! But “the things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:18-30). I have counted the cost and it is more than I can pay. What do I do now? I give up all that is my own and give myself to Jesus. It is our allegiance to Jesus that makes it possible. He makes it possible. The cost I am unable to pay; He is able to, and He enables me when I come to Him and give myself unconditionally to Him. The cost that I am not able to pay is not my coming to Him, it is my trying to come to God (by repentance) apart from Him.

In the first example, we are reminded of how people used to start towers and not finish them. Apparently even Herod had done this. They did not prepare their resources in advance. Our “tower” may be our spiritual edifice, whether individually or collectively (see Matthew 7:24; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17; 8:1—where “edifies” means build—and 1 Peter 2:5). It rises up to the heavens upon a proper foundation. This is very noble, but it is also costly.

The Interpreter’s Commentary (page 90) says, “In framing the resolution to begin a Christian life, it is necessary to consider what it will cost, of self-renunciation, to maintain a consistent Christian character. The result of this counting the cost is always the discovery, I have not sufficient to finish; then comes either the abandonment of the plan, before it is fairly undertaken, or a going unto Christ, who is our only and our complete sufficiency in and for all things (2 Corinthians 3:5).”

Frederick W. Grant, the Plymouth Brethren Bible expositor, comments, “Thus the effect of reckoning may seem mere discouragement; and so it is meant to be, from all mere levity, and from all self-confidence: if you are setting out in either of these moods, you may as  well give up at once. If, on the other hand, you are in serious earnest, the Lord’s words are meant only to cast you upon resources better than your own, and all-sufficient” (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1897).

I think of Peter’s reaction when Jesus predicted that he would deny Him. “Even though all may fall away because of You, I would never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33; see Matthew 26:35). “I will lay down my soul for you” (John 13:37). Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your soul for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (John 13:38). See, Peter did not know himself. He had not counted up the cost of following Jesus. Does that mean that if he had, he should never have attempted to follow Him? Of course not. All that follows in John 14—16 tells us what the solution is: Jesus’ own indwelling through the Holy Spirit, a solution that we never really avail ourselves of without true self-knowledge.

In the second example, we are a king with ten thousand soldiers facing an enemy with twenty thousand. Perhaps this alludes to our attempts to overcome the world. We are outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered. It is natural to ask for terms of peace, otherwise the world will leave us with nothing, our reputation in shreds, our property lost, and perhaps without a friend.

Again, the Interpreter’s Commentary (page 90) says, “No man can enter upon the life-campaign against the world, the flesh, and the devil, without alliance with and reinforcements from an Almighty Savior.”

Unless we interpret the enemy to be God, in which case we had better ask for terms of peace right away. This is an unlikely interpretation unless we interpret the tower to be a military watch tower. Then the meaning of the two examples will be different. Jesus would be telling us that it is better to forsake all to become His disciple than to attempt to resist the call of God. If we count the cost of staying in our present state, we will find that we cannot possibly succeed. The more sensible alternative would be to give up whatever we must in order to whole-heartedly commit ourselves to Jesus.

Choosing Christ (14:33)

If we are bound to exhaust all our resources in a vain attempt to save ourselves, the better alternative is to turn to Christ and give Him our all. “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” The word translated possessions here (a participle of hyparchō) means what is one’s own, one’s substance or property. It includes “father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even [one’s] own soul,” but also one’s other property.

If we cast ourselves entirely into the hands of Jesus, He will hold us up. This is the call of discipleship.

If we are to give the Gospel according to Luke a fair reading, we probably have to accept that Jesus included our material possessions when He said that we must give up all that is our own. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible makes this case for four full pages (pages 247-251). We have a habit of watering down what we do not like, but Jesus is clear enough. (I would love to elaborate, but as I write this I am suffering in body and do not have enough concentration for the task; I apologize.)

It is not that Jesus opposes the use of material things. It is our possession of them. Possession means that I am entitled to exclusive use of something, whether I use it or not: it thus “belongs” to me. To accumulate possessions as we do is simply not acceptable, for the more we have, the less we can actually use, and as long as we have them, others are not entitled to use them.

Nevertheless, discipleship does not always mean that we have absolutely nothing. It does mean that we live simply, that we identify with the poor, and that, as we make use of things, we are always mindful of what others lack, and are thus ready to share and to contribute to their lives with what we have. In this world, as it is and not as we idealize it, we cannot ignore the poor and the needs of the poor.

The Franciscan value of living in poverty is not a sort of self-denying asceticism or self-inflicted suffering. The idea instead is that creation is bountiful and has all that we need, but also that it does not belong to anyone; no one can own any part of it. God provides it for all of us to care for and make use of (with the needs of all other creatures in mind), but not to own. God is its only Owner. But God grants it for us to use, to use, however, on the basis of honest human need. We use then only what we truly need, living simply that others may simply live. See Michael Cusato’s essay, “Commercium: From the Profane to the Sacred” in Francis of Assisi: History, Hagiography and Hermeneutics in the Early Documents, edited by Jay M. Hammond (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004) pages 179-209.

Saltiness (14:34-35)

Jesus is still talking to the crowds when He says, “Therefore, salt is good.” He warns them, however, that the salt must not become tasteless, for then it becomes good for nothing. Salt has a number of uses: it seasons food; it is a preservative (without refrigeration it was essential for preserving food); it has healing properties; it purifies things; it is also used as a fertilizer for certain kinds of vegetables. It is necessary for life but it also has properties that kill germs. What are we to make of Jesus’ use of it in this context?

Salt without saltiness is of course a useless substance. Salt in itself is a valuable substance and can be heavily taxed. It is also a stable substance that does not naturally lose its taste. However, some people for the sake of profit will mix other elements with it (such as gypsum) and thus render it tasteless. It would be very disappointing to buy salt and to take it home and find out that it had no taste! It is good for nothing at all.

In Matthew 5:13 Jesus says that those whom He has called are the salt of the earth. This probably refers to salt’s ability to preserve things. In Mark 9:50 the salt is some quality in the disciples that enables them to live at peace with one another. What about in this context?

F. W. Grant says that the savorless salt is the label of discipleship without its corresponding reality. But what is the quality here that makes discipleship “real”?

Matthew Henry interprets this tasteless salt to be an apostate Christian, “degenerate Christians, who, rather than part with what they have in the world, will throw up their profession.” This interpretation assumes that these apostate Christians are the ones who have taken the step of profession and have not counted the cost.

Witness Lee says believers need to have a certain taste, saltiness, which they get from renouncing all things for the sake of Christ. If they fail to renounce all, they are neither fit for the kingdom (the soil) nor for the manure pile (hell), but have to be “thrown out,” which he interprets to be the place of discipline. Since they are believers they are not fit for hell, but since they are unfaithful they are not fit for the kingdom either. The alternative is the place of outer darkness where they are disciplined by the Lord until they are fit for the kingdom. Though it is true that only those fit for the kingdom can enter it, and when they die not all believers, for sure, will be fit for the kingdom. And it is also true that a believer who comes short is not thereby assigned to perdition. Nevertheless, it does not seem reasonable to say that the “third” place, where most of us for sure must spend some time, is what the Lord would call the garbage. Nor does it seem to me that the soil and the manure pile correspond to the kingdom and perdition respectively. From an agricultural point of view, manure does not qualify as such a negative symbol. It is in fact a fertilizer for the soil, as also salt can be.

The Interpreter’s Commentary says that “the savor is the spirit of self-sacrifice.” The Interpreter’s Bible says pretty much the same, that saltiness is “readiness to sacrifice comfort and even life for Jesus’ sake.” For Christianity to have no taste is to lose “its readiness to carry the cross, because it has been adulterated by compromise with the world’s standards.” Joseph A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible says that “coming on the heels of the three conditions of discipleship set forth in verses 25-33, in which the question was entirely about the relation of the disciples to Jesus, the similitude has to be understood of the same relationship. Salt expresses the willingness of the disciple to offer himself/herself in allegiance to Jesus.”

In other words, if we want to become a disciple of Jesus but are not willing to hate your loved ones and relatives (as discussed above) and even your own life and soul, to carry your own cross to the gallows, and to give up all your own possessions, then you will be tasteless salt—good for nothing! You may have the label, but you are not the genuine article.

Remember the feast of the kingdom of God? Jesus has taken the least place and has gone out to gather the poor and crippled and blind and lame, and has gone into the highways and along the hedges to gather the likes of us. But the meal has to be seasoned with real salt! If the salt has no taste it is thrown out. You may be invited, but to enter and enjoy the feast, you have to have salt—real salt.

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