Yet, with this captive audience, Jesus actually does the opposite. He attempts to convince the crowd of the price they will pay if they choose to become followers on the Way of Love. While it might sound odd, I think there is some comfort to be found in such explicit honesty. After all, it is incredibly rare to encounter such complete transparency and truth. It provides the necessary components to build an abiding trust.
Who are the truth tellers in your life? It is not always easy to hear what they have to say, but we often know we can trust their sense of things.
Jesus is our truth teller. Both in this gospel story, and in our lives today, we can trust the truth he conveys: there is a price to joining this movement.
That price may look and feel different for us than it did for the early Church. And what feels costly to one of us, may not feel as costly to another. Yet as we continue to think about what it means to be the Church today, it is worth spending a little time unpacking that price.
So, what is the price of joining this movement?
In essence, Jesus tells the crowd: Joining this movement may cost you your priorities, your primary relationships, your possessions, plans, and pride. I imagine this list is not exhaustive, but it does serve as a warning that this movement is not one to be taken lightly. It is the real deal, and the price may feel too steep for some.
Jesus is not trying to pull some sleazy sales move. Rather, he is drawing the crowd's attention to the fine print, and offering them a magnifying glass so the actual cost does not go unnoticed. He compares the decision to when a landowner questions whether they are actually in a position to build a new tower or a king is in a position to wage a war. These particular comparisons also let us know that within the crowd were several influential and affluent individuals - as the vast majority of folks in antiquity were not facing decisions of such economic scale. Jesus is telling the crowd: Know what you are getting yourselves into.
The text tells us his speech to the crowd began:
“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.” (Luke 14:26-27)
For most of us - this passage can be more than a little troubling. At first glance, his instruction to hate some of the most important people in our lives seems to contradict his overarching message. Yet after some reflection, we might find the meaning underneath these harsh words. Jesus may be trying to tell his listeners that - being a part of this movement will change our priorities.
We generally tend to be concerned with our own self-preservation or that of our family’s. If we are particularly generous, we might care about the preservation of the wider community. Yet God’s dream goes beyond any individual, family, community, or nation. If we join this movement, we are embracing God’s priorities in lieu of our own. Is that a price we are willing to pay?
Families tend to share priorities, and when they don’t, tension and conflict may begin to breed. While it may be a very simple example, we lived through this family tension when I was ordained and began parish ministry. When I entered the ordination process, it was with the loving and enthusiastic support of our large extended family. While most of the family was from a different branch of the Jesus Movement - our core values of faith were largely the same. Maybe it was because of this, that I did not anticipate the tension that arose.
As I began to need to be present at worship on Sunday mornings and on high holy days like Christmas and Easter, the reality began to set in. It meant we moved away from our extended family, and we began to attend less family events - as most were on Saturday night's and took place several hours away. Nor did we partake in the long standing traditions of the large Christmas gathering or Easter morning brunch.
Our priorities were to spend these sacred days, and most Sundays, with our faith community, and we joined in large family events as we were able. Our faith led our priorities elsewhere, and while it was understood by all on a practical, intellectual level - it was not always understood on an emotional one. On an emotional level it was disappointing for some that we had chosen these priorities, and it has caused some uncomfortable conversations over the years. Even as we all love one another deeply, and want one another to be happy. We each do our best to try and understand where the other is coming from, and are intentional about enjoying the time that we do spend together.
When we choose priorities that differ from our family - whether it be from our faith or some other reason - there will naturally be tension and it may lead to more challenging conflicts and broken relationships. Many of us have experienced this fracture when it comes to social justice issues. When our faith leads us to change our practices to address climate change, there are other loved ones who may mock this choice because they do not believe climate change exists. There are countless ways for these divisions to bubble up in our primary relationships.
Jesus wants the crowd to understand that - being a part of this movement will change your priorities, which will lead to a change in your primary relationships. That change may be barely perceptible, or it might be acutely painful. Is that a price we are willing to pay?
Jesus then takes his point one step further by telling the crowd:
“...none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
Remember, he has just compared their need to carefully consider the cost of joining this movement to that of a landowner questioning whether they are actually in a position to build a new tower or whether a king is in a position to wage a war. There are several affluent and influential people in the crowd. And he has just told them that the price of joining this movement is giving up all their possessions. I imagine this message was startling to say the least.
Yet, underneath his blunt message, is an astute and important truth. Jesus is telling the crowd - your possessions cost you more than you know. Our possessions hold power over us. In order to walk the Way of Love, we need to be ready to give up those possessions and release ourselves of the power they hold over us. This doesn’t mean you quite literally need to give up all your possessions - it means you constantly need to be examining your relationship to your possessions.
So, what do we possess?
Well, we possess money. We store it in our purses, in jars in our cupboards, maybe underneath our mattresses, and in our bank accounts, 401ks, stock investments, and other assets. The more money we have, the more we may be tempted to protect that money. Or if we have lived with scarcity our whole lives, what little money we do have we cling to with dear life. If we are not mindful of our relationship to money, we can find ourselves serving our money, instead of focusing on God’s priorities on the Way of Love.
We also possess a lot of physical stuff. As Americans, we are particularly prone to owning a ridiculous amount of stuff. This stuff fills and clutters our homes. Businesses use advertisements to convince us that all our problems will be solved if we simply buy this one product or subscribe to this one service. So we do it. We buy more stuff, which requires more of our time to use the stuff, more of our attention to take care of the stuff, and more of our money to maintain the stuff. And I would argue, all that physical stuff cluttering our lives reflects the internal clutter we carry around inside our souls. In other words, without an intentional relationship with our physical stuff, we may find ourselves serving our stuff, and lose sight of God’s priorities on the Way of Love.
We also possess things like plans and pride. Plans are beautiful and wonderful, but the more tightly we hold them, the more our pride can get in the way, which in turn distracts us from God’s priorities. I think this is something the Church can really struggle with. We get stuck on a particular idea of how we believe things should be and we hold onto it tightly - refusing to genuinely consider other possibilities we might hear if we listened to the still, small voice of God. And all of this draws our energy and resources away from God’s dream. Given one of our jobs as the Church is to work in concert with God and one another to help bring about God’s dream for creation - that is deeply troubling.
Jesus wants the crowd to understand that - being a part of this movement will require you examine your relationship with possessions and be willing to give them up - again, and again, and again. Is that a price we are willing to pay?
This week, what if we reflected on the price of being a part of the Way of Love, and asked ourselves:
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