Building a tower

Pentecost 15

Luke 14:25-35

Marian Free

In the name of Christ, in whose service our lives are re-thought and re-evaluated and our priorities re-assessed. Amen.

“Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” “None of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” By these criteria, I am certainly not a disciple of Jesus. I don’t hate my family and it is obvious that I have not given up all my possession. If these are the criteria by which Christians are measured, I suspect few of us would measure up. The standards are so daunting, that it is a wonder that more of us don’t simply give it all away. Then again, if we did that, we would find ourselves in the category of those who begin but do not finish. It seems as though we cannot win. We cannot reach the high standards that Jesus demands, but if we stop trying we expose ourselves as those who are unable to see the task through to the end.

Jesus’ language is uncompromising and his demands seem impossible to fulfil, but these sayings on the cost of discipleship while serious, must be seen in their wider context – something that we lose when we only have a portion of the gospel each week. With these saying we are coming to the end of a section in which Jesus has been challenging the social and cultural conventions of those around him and trying to expose the narrowness of the values of the world compared with the values of the kingdom.

In the context of a meal hosted by a Pharisee, Jesus challenged the accepted notions of honour and prestige and implied that the social convention of reciprocity did not belong in the world view that he was proclaiming. He continues with a parable about a banquet given by a wealthy landowner in which the domestic affairs of the invited guests make them oblivious to the honour of the invitation and their attachment to their worldly relationships and possessions, cause them to dishonour their obligation to attend the banquet – they needed to see a newly purchased block of land, they had just got married, they had bought oxen which they wanted to try out.

Jesus moves from this observation about the way in which attachment to the world, leads to disdain towards God, to general statements about attachment and discipleship. Discipleship, Jesus contends sees the world from the perspective of a relationship with God and not vice versa. Worldly possessions and relationships are all re-evaluated in the light of the invitation which God offers.

This does not necessarily mean that we all have to give up absolutely everything. It does mean that we have to re-evaluate our attitudes to our possessions and our relationships. In these uncompromising statements Jesus forces us to ask ourselves where our true priorities lie, what is really important to us, what do we really need, are we really committed to following Jesus, or are our lives determined by the values, relationships and material goods of this world? Do our possessions determine us or do we determine their place in our lives?

Jesus challenges to consider these questions by putting before us a number of demands. First he suggests that discipleship involves a re-ordering of relationships “Loving and hating” are strong terms in our cultural setting, but in Jesus’ context they are an expression for preference. If a person preferred one thing over another they were said to love one and hate the other. Disciples are not called to “hate” their family. However, in a culture in which ancestry and social status were of primary importance, Jesus is challenging the disciples to understand that such concerns are a form of self-absorption which detracts from a relationship with God and with others.

Disciples must also consider their attitude to themselves and to the value they place on their lives. A disciple may or may not have to carry a cross in the same way that Jesus did, but discipleship means having a certain detachment to the world, a willingness not to cling to life but to give one’s future into the hands of God.

Because discipleship means a re-evaluation of one’s attitude to the world, to one’s possessions and relationships, a decision to follow Jesus should not be taken lightly. Beginning without being prepared to finish, not only indicates a failure to do the groundwork, but exposes one (and one’s faith) to ridicule and defeat. In summary, a follower of Jesus must be prepared to see the world in a new way, willing to re-evaluate relationships and priorities, to say “farewell” to all that they have and to begin life afresh guided and directed by the values and priorities taught and lived by Jesus. The only way to achieve what Jesus promises is to begin the journey determined to finish it. Discipleship is a lasting commitment, not a fleeting passion which passes when the next enthusiasm comes into sight.

This leads Jesus to his last comment (for now) on discipleship. “Disciples” who by their lives and behaviour do not stand out from the world around them, have as little value and make as little impact as salt that has lost its flavour.

According to Jesus, being a disciple is transformative; it leads to a re-evaluation of what is important and what is not. It leads, not only to a change in one’s behaviour, but to a change in one’s relationship to the world, to a change in one’s relationship with one’s community and a change in one’s attitude to one’s life.

Jesus’ language is quite uncompromising. Discipleship is not something that can be half-hearted. One is either a follower of Jesus or one is not. One is either prepared to see the journey through to the end or one is not. One is either prepared to be transformed by the presence of God or one is not. Discipleship demands an attitude change. It demands that we see all our relationships, our possessions, our achievements in the light of our relationship with God. When we place God and our relationship with God first, everything else falls into place and we discover that we have lost nothing and gained everything.

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