Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
I love to hang out in really cool coffee shops and bookstores. These great places provide unique opportunities for me to meet new people. Without a doubt, while sitting in one of these venues, it never fails that I am asked, “So tell me about yourself?” I’m sure we all have at some point in our lives, been at a party or a social event and someone has asked this same question of us, “tell me about yourself.” Some of us might answer, “I am a teacher, I am a nurse, I am a lawyer, I am a homemaker, I am retired, or I am a ‘fill in the blank.’ It is interesting to note that we often define our identity, by our vocation. Imagine being asked this same question, “tell me about yourself” and without any hesitation we respond with, “I am a disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” I am not convinced that by using this response these days, you will instantly become the “life of the party.” You may very well find yourself standing in a corner all alone, wondering why no one will talk with you. The cost of Discipleship is very high.
Knowing who we are and whose we are, is at the heart of our identity. What is it that defines who you are? Is it your job, your hobbies, the clubs to which you belong, your political views, your family heritage, or something else? Our loyalties, allegiances, or commitments to particular things, can very easily become that which defines us. These things and relationships can be so important to us, that we lose sight of that which we are truly called to be. In today’s gospel narrative, Jesus challenged the crowds to re-examine why they were following him, and explained to them what it would cost if they were to completely identify with him as a disciple. Like the crowds that were always with Jesus throughout his ministry, we must come to understand what the call to discipleship really means. Many folks in the crowds that followed Jesus were there merely for what he could do for them. Imagine for a moment you are in that crowd travelling with Jesus. In that time, Jesus was a charismatic personality; he was a great teacher, and great healer. He was a very popular fellow and so, many followed him around because he could heal them from their infirmities, he could feed them when they were hungry, and he could entertain them with is teaching and loving personality. This is where this call to discipleship really broke down for them, and where it can break down for us as well.
We have to remember that Jesus was travelling toward Jerusalem not to restore a political regime, or to have a major healing festival, or to entertain the crowds with his great teaching, or to share in a never-ending feast. No, Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to face the agony of the cross. Jesus radical, revolutionary, scandalous good news of the cross was not what the then followers of Jesus was expecting. Jesus was not leading them to a glorious arrival, but to the scandalous notion that they were being called as disciples, which meant taking up a cross and following Jesus. In other words, Jesus was calling them and is calling us to a life willing to take up the radical call to love as God loves. Of course, Jesus radical message came into conflict with the religious and political systems of his day, and by his preaching and teaching, the good news led to the cross. Jesus Christ taught that love eventually comes in conflict with our loyalties to systems, jobs, political ideas, relationships and any other things that potentially get in the way of loving God and loving neighbor. This was such a radical notion, that Jesus had to use what for us, may seem to be a very harsh metaphor that explained the radical choices that discipleship requires. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
“Hating those closest to us,” is a very difficult thing to hear, but when Jesus was proclaiming that we should hate, he was explaining that choices have to be made when it comes to discipleship. Carson Brisson recently wrote in the journal “Interpretation,” “’Hate’ here does not mean that psychological state that expresses itself in feelings and actions of profound loathing toward one’s relatives or toward anyone else. It signals, rather . . . the radical nature of the subordination of all other values and relationships a disciple must practice if she or he would respond faithfully to God’s dawning reign.” In other words, discipleship claims an allegiance to Jesus above all other allegiances. This was such a radical notion because in this ancient society, family relationships were the ultimate source of one’s identity. In other words, choosing to follow Christ may come in conflict with things that are very dear to us, even those things that may define who it is we claim to be.
Can you imagine for a moment the allegiences in your life that has the potential to come into conflict with discipleship? It is important to know, because the call to discipleship requires choices to be made; choices in the way we choose to live. When we seek our identity no longer in our vocations, our hobbies, our political views, or our closest relationships, we can begin to find our identity in Christ by truly offering our very lives to God. The question then becomes, how do we offer ourselves, our souls, and our bodies to God?
Choosing how we spend our time is an offering to God. Making time each day for study, prayer, worship, thanksgiving, fellowship with other Christians, and for nurturing our relationship with God is a choice that will lead us to radical love. Choosing how we use our gifts, our spiritual gifts, is an offering to God. Discerning how we might use our talents and passions, and then getting busy in service to God’s kingdom is a choice that will lead us to radical love. Choosing how we spend our resources is an offering to God. Choosing to give from our resources to support the work of God’s kingdom is also a choice that will lead us to radical love. Choosing how we treat our family members, our friends, newcomers to the community, is a choice that will lead us to radical love. The call to discipleship really is the call to radical love.
Some hear the call, but remain committed to other things. Some hear the call, cast their lot with Jesus above all else and all other claims, and they receive back their lives as more than they could ever imagine it could be. By giving up our lives, we find our lives. By no longer seeking what our discipleship can mean for us, but seeking what discipleship means for others we are being led to radical love. The cross is no call to hatred; it is a call to radical love. Our faith declares that in the cross of Jesus, God has made the agony of humanity, the agony of God. It is through this agony that we are able to discern the divine heart of God. God’s love is self-giving and self-denying and it is that to which we are called. We are called to love as God loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” God’s call to discipleship bears not death nor hate, but everlasting life and radical never-ending love.