It had been some time since Jesus had descended from the Mount of
Transfiguration and set his face toward Jerusalem. As he journeyed along, large crowds began to accompany him, fascinated by his teachings, awed by his healing
of all kinds of illnesses, and convinced that at journey’s end the glorious kingdom of David would be restored!
The entourage grew into the thousands, all captivated by the wonderworking of Jesus. They are filled with awe and excitement! A noisy and joyous procession was now traveling with Jesus, clinging to his every word. Then, suddenly, those words hit them more like bricks than bouquets. Jesus turns to the crowds and announces, “You cannot be my disciple without hating your father and mother, your brothers and sisters, and even your own life.” Traveling with Jesus suddenly becomes a real problem.
Of course, on this Sunday we, too, have real problems with what Jesus is telling us. Whatever happened to family values, Lord? So most every preacher having this Lukan text to preach will likely turn to its parallel in Matthew’s Gospel. There, Jesus tells the crowd that they should love him more than the members of their families. But the “hate” word is not mentioned at all. But we are here on this day with St. Luke and we feel our resistance rising to what the Lord is telling us. One consolation is that both Testaments use this word, hate, in two distinct ways. On one hand, it really does, at times, mean “hate” with all the physical and emotional weight that accompanies the emotion. The Psalmist asks, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?” (Ps. 139:21) This is real, genuine, 24 carat hate! On the other hand, there is another usage for the biblical terms for hate, one that deals with our preference or even our loyalty. In this world of meaning, love and hate are ways to speak of a scale of allegiance from utterly important to merely tangential, from highest value to the nonessential. So hating one’s family, in this expression of the Greek and Hebrew is to affirm that being a disciple of Jesus is the absolute top priority of our lives.
All other affiliations, even family, are scaled down beneath this one central
allegiance. One biblical scholar put it this way: “Jesus is not calling his followers
to hate their families in terms of emotional response; instead, he calls for undivided loyalty to himself above family loyalties.” 1 Of course, we live in an age where effective marketing is everything. You won’t attract the crowds these days without a considerable softening of the message of the gospel. So some churches shape their marketing on the assumption that folks will be attracted to a happy, fun-filled journey with Jesus, ironically much like that of the crowds that followed him. Or, maybe adopt a “Christian-lite” (or “Catholic-lite”) style of occasionally popping in for Mass and helping out now and then on some parish project. Otherwise, not letting the demands of the Good News trouble you too much. Still, Jesus insists that our troubling with other matters will need to be hated, to be significantly reduced in our allegiance, if we are to travel with him. After all, that Journey ends in Jerusalem on a Cross.
Jesus now turns from direct address to the stunned crowds and offers them
two short parables. They share many things in common. The first deals with
someone who wishes to build a tower, but is cautioned to sit down and consider the full cost of its completion. Otherwise, we could be left with just a foundation
when the funds run out and be subject to the laughter of everyone who passes by.
The second little parable asks whether one king, marching into battle with his army of 10,000 would not sit down and deeply consider his situation if the other king is advancing with 20,000 troops. The results of that reflection may well cause our king to send a delegation to ask for peace terms while his opponent is still far
away. Both of the brief parables have two things in common. First, we can initiate
a course of action whose outcome is either highly embarrassing (the foundation-
only project) or completely disastrous (being overwhelmed by an army double the
size of your own). The other feature in common is Jesus’ emphasis on first “sitting
down” to reflect on the prospects of any plans. Jesus calls for a season of “sitting
down,” of reflection that focuses on outcomes of what we intend or even wish for.
So maybe it’s time for us to sit down and seek for some wisdom.
Another Time Share ad pops up on your email. Sure this one costs big
bucks, but the photos of all those happy people lounging in beach chairs on
the sands outside their lovely suites are sure alluring. But maybe it’s time
for some sitting down to really count the cost.
A friend can’t wait to tell you about a new dietary supplement plan that
guarantees to lose weight, promote heart health, and newfound virility. Sure
the monthly fees are high, but maybe this is what you have been searching
for all along. Then we hear our Lord’s caution, “Time to sit down and count
the wisdom of this plan.”
A visitor shows up at your door to share news about a new church in the
community. None of the old “guilt-trips” or “do this” or “don’t do that”
sermons. Everybody is invited to celebrate life and join in the fun-filled
activities. But perhaps this is particularly a good time to sit down and count
the cost. Does being a disciple of Christ involve only happy celebration?
(The preacher may want to delete one or more of these examples and add
others of more direct concern to the assembly. Doublet examples are
troublesome for the hearers to retain, so perhaps three or four examples will
Have you noticed that it is during such sitting down times that the Holy Spirit
nudges us toward new possibilities not even considered at first? Sometimes, these times of discernment lead to issues of vocation or to an acceptance that God has been calling us to a particular ministry. Sitting down to discern our baptismal call to be a disciple will involve challenges and changes,…all to the good. So it’s not only tower-builders and kings who from time to time, need to sit down and count the cost. Again and again, we who are baptized into Christ will need to sit down and seek out the holy wisdom of God. The cost of discipleship is a constant consideration in our travels with Jesus, deep within our souls and the community of faith. Times for sitting down to consider the cost will not be rare for those traveling with Jesus.
But look more deeply into that building project and the need for us to sit
down first. Yes, this is a task necessary for Christian maturity. But there is grace,
a gift, at the heart of the discernment. In Christ, our God has already built up the
Church, offers us the sacramental life, and promises us life in the Heavenly City.
Yes, there is a sitting down time for any king to count the cost of going up against
an army twice the size of his own. But through the life, passion, death, and
resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, all earthly kingdoms have become unsettled
and moved off-center. 2 Only the reign of Jesus Christ abides now and forever
more. We can travel with Jesus in deep joy and expectation. Thanks be to God.
1) Jeannine K. Brown, “Commentary on Luke 14:25-33,” Working Preacher, September 5, 2010, accessed August 29,
2) I am indebted to David Schnasa Jacobsen, Professor of Preaching at Boston University School of Theology, for this