Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.
“Something’s wrong.” The Doctor was looking at the catacombs ahead of us. “I’ve missed something. Something important.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, things aren’t adding up. This is supposed to be more difficult than this.”
“Maybe you’re just really clever,” I replied.
“Yes I am,” he smirked and straightened his bow tie. “But no. We weren’t given all the facts. I think we took a wrong turn somewhere. This is too easy.”
The Doctor looked at me. I didn’t like what I was seeing in his eyes. “I’m sorry.” he said. “But I’ve made a terrible mistake. We’re all in danger.”
This is what basically runs through my head when I read this passage. If you speak to just about any follower of Jesus here in the States and ask them if they find following Jesus difficult, if they’ve had to change a lot of their ways and being, if they’re honest, they’ll probably say, “No, not really.” Well, not like Jesus is letting on here in this passage, anyway.
Following Jesus is a life altering practice (daily disciplines leading to a new way of being). It’s about leaving behind everything we know and everything we think we know. Following Jesus calls us to make a stand knowing full well that when we do, we may well be alienated from our own families and communities.
And it’s a dangerous life, too. Because not only are we called to challenge ourselves and our loved ones with living and embodying The Way of Jesus that helps reveal the Realm of G-d “on earth as in heaven,” but it’s supposed to be a challenge to our neighborhoods, our communities, our societies. And challenging the status quo leads to serious consequences -- slander, imprisonment, violence, and perhaps even death.
“But,” someone will ask, “surely you can’t mean that?”
I most certainly do. That’s the context for Jesus’ statements. “Counting the cost” isn’t just about losing a few drinking buddies (though that can happen). No. Jesus’ context is one of butting heads with the Religious views of the day and the views of the Roman government. And the story those first followers of Jesus told, The Way they lived, is what got them thrown in prison and executed. By stating that their former religion was “old and outdated...close to disappearing” (Hebrews 8), they were in jeopardy of division within their families (see Luke 12.49ff). These types of situations led a young Pharisee to seek the arrest (and worst) of followers of “The Way” (Acts 8.1; 9.1ff). And when those followers started challenging Rome (“son of god” was a title of Caesar, see here and cf. these passages), the outcome was even worse (see here and here).
It was to this that Jesus spoke and warned. This is what he means by counting the cost, willing to leave everything. Following Jesus took a lot more courage than most of us in States ever realize.
So, the question that comes rushing to the fore is how does this relate to us today? Especially for us who live in first-world countries where persecution of this magnitude is hardly ever an issue? I think it’s very relatable. Especially with regards to social justice issues.
Recently, my wife and I saw the movie, The Butler. It was a fantastic story about an African American man who was a butler at the White House and his family. It was about civil rights for people of color and stretched over several presidential administrations (from Eisenhower to Reagan). It was about how his son was trying to change things at the ground level (he was part of the sit-ins in Tennessee). It was about how the “black staff” were getting paid 40% less than the “white staff,” how they were never promoted, and the struggle to get this changed. The right to vote for African Americans came about in 1870 but wasn’t felt on a national scale until almost 100 years later in 1965, the year I was born. And equal pay for the “black staff” of the White House finally happened under the Reagan administration!
During the Civil Rights Movement, several followers of Jesus stepped up noting that, because of the life and work of Jesus, all people should be given the same rights and privileges. They were moved by the fact that Jesus opened the way for all people, not just one group of people.
The same thing is going on today regarding the LBGTQ movement. Yes, there is an agenda and that agenda is equality. Period. There are followers of Jesus who are fighting this and they are fighting on the wrong side. This isn’t about “special treatment” or “indoctrinating our children.” It’s about fairness. It’s about justice. It’s the same justice that was sought during the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, in my estimation, the LBGTQ movement is an extension of the Civil Rights Movement for it’s the same thing. And, if we step up and support this struggle for equality and side with the LBGTQ community, mark it down, we will be the subject of slander, misrepresentation, hatred, etc. Some of us, depending on where we live, will experience violence against ourselves and our families.
When we, based on the gospel that G-d’s Realm has been established on earth and is spreading throughout creation, let those Christian religious businesses institutions know that they’re way is “old and outdated,” the turn against us will be worse.
But that’s the challenge that Jesus is making here. That’s what he’s telling us. If we are truly living The Way, then we will be challenging the broken constructs of our day, even if that’s our religions (and we should be challenging those, too).
If our lives are not fraught with this type of confrontation, if they’re relatively easy, then perhaps we’ve missed something. If we get bent out of shape with the struggles of the poor (“They’re just living off my dime!”), the sick (“I’m not paying for their medical needs!”), or the struggle for equality (“They’re lifestyle is a sin, so I don’t support this!”), then maybe we’re the ones who haven’t considered the cost of following Jesus. Following Jesus means putting ourselves aside for the sake of the other -- even if we don’t agree with them. Remember, St. Paul wrote, “While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people...God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.6-8). Likewise, when Jesus said that we’re supposed to “carry [our] own cross,” we’re not only to die to ourselves but also for the sake of the Other. That’s what following Jesus is all about.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC