Giving Up Everything

Ordinary 23C

Luke 14: 25 33

Introduction

In this study, we come to the end of a series dealing with the qualities Jesus demands of those who follow him. Not unexpectedly, this passage of eight verses serves as a kind of ultimatum,

Some Notes On Our Text

Verse 25

The passage opens with a transition verse 25, "Large crowds were travelling with Jesus…" to signify that what follows was not spoken to the people inside, or looking into the prominent Pharisee's home (see beginning of chapter 14). The clause presumes that he had resumed his travelling after the meal at the house of the Pharisee. If it was still the Sabbath, he would not have travelled very far as he was a devout upholder of the Torah.

It is very human for those who teach the Faith to delight in large numbers of people responding to their teaching and to feel despondent when the response is small. Our Lord, however, offers a different model. He makes demands of those who wish to follow him, which have the effect of a most severe sifting process.

  • He teaches in a way that demands careful attention, even when his listeners are very tired.
  • He is uncompromising in what he requires, and can appear to be rather blunt at times.

On this occasion Jesus turns to the crowd and, instead of welcoming them, seems determined to discourage them. But we need to remember that they were not following in a sense of accepting the teaching of Jesus, or obeying his precepts for holy living. They followed in the expectation of a kingdom about to be established in pomp, splendour, and power — which they would share in. Our Lord goes out of his way to remove any misunderstanding.

Verse 26

The first uncompromising rule for anyone who would be a disciple of Jesus is that they must hate father, mother, wife, children, brother, sisters, and especially — self!

Yes, the word "hate" is a correct translation and should not be "watered down". Notice we don't have to hate friends, neighbours, or the local inhabitants — only our nearest and dearest — those whom we naturally love and for whom we would do anything we could to help them!

This last point provides a clue to unpack the obvious dilemma: how on earth can hatred be the basis of Christian discipleship?

Many reading these notes will be aware that in the Aramaic language there is no "comparative" (e.g. good, better, best or little, less, least.) Therefore, since we are working from a translation of the Bible into English, we must acknowledge that although the translation is correct, it actually means:

"If anyone comes to me to be my disciple, they must love father, mother, wife and children less than me."

So, this is an Aramaic way of saying more correctly:

"You must love them in every way but you must love me even more".

This allows the followers of Jesus, paradoxically, to love him above all else, without diminishing the love they naturally (and absolutely correctly) have for those whom God has given as their family.

In fact, the people listening to Jesus would, in their cultural setting, have heard it something like:

"You must love your father, mother, wife, children, and whoever else you want, but the demands they make must not restrict your discipleship. You must be free to serve me in the way I reveal to you."

Here, our Lord is taking up the teaching of Deuteronomy 33: 9 as demanded of the Levites of old:

"He says of his father and mother I have not seen them. His brothers he does not know, nor does he know his children."

Verse 27

Our Lord goes on to list a further condition of discipleship, and this one will take a lot of explaining!

"Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

There was no mistaking this requirement, although of course, its full import was not yet appreciated. Martyrdom by the cruelest of tortures was to be accepted as very possible, even probable. The spiritual understanding of dying to one's own self by accepting the will of God in all things developed later. For now, Jesus was signaling that those who would truly follow him would pay for the honour. As it has turned out, this condition has continued to apply on a wide front ever since. The extensive and inhumane persecution of devout Christians throughout the world today ought to stir Christ's members to much prayer and fasting.

Verse 28 32

Our Lord presents two parables to help his listeners make sound, reasoned decisions about whether to follow him as disciples rather than just on-lookers. They were parables — not allegories, and we must not assign symbolic meaning to each detail.

Is he saying it is better not to begin to be a disciple, and fail? A little time pondering these verses, strategically placed after sorting out the "not so sure", will reveal that Jesus is hinting at calling disciples together for a major task. It cannot be taken on without reflecting on the real and full cost. It is no use acting on impulse; but only after careful consideration of all that is known so that a clear-cut decision can be made and adhered to.

The discerning will hear that he is calling for careful, conscious, yet generous acceptance of a great commission!

Verse 33

Referring back to verses 26 and 27 Jesus says:

"In the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions."

Readers of modern English will quite reasonably ask, "How can you do his work if you have nothing to do it with?" To add to the dilemma at this point we also need to know that the best scholarship tells us this condition is applicable to all disciples — Luke seems to make no distinction. Obviously it was to depend on circumstances.

Whilst the earlier conditions were at least clear to hearers, even if unpalatable, this one remained a mystery for many. It is an example of the kind of thing our Lord put forward for people to mull over and enquire about. Those who chose to follow, persevered and learnt what he meant. Others, less motivated, just quietly drifted off to other interests.

In truth, Jesus does not demand outright disposal of goods and possessions. What is necessary for discipleship is the yielding up of the right to ownership — the right to exercise direct control. Our Lord uses the present tense to imply a continuing attitude of detachment. So that remains something for us all to review in our own lives from time to time.

Conclusion

Jesus is not on about deprivation for its own sake:

detachment 

  • from loved ones
  • from one's own life
  • from one's own possessions.

Rather he is challenging those who hear his call in the depths of their being, to be grateful for all those things yet not be held back by them from becoming more attached to him. Those who are enabled by the Holy Spirit, to hear that inner call to follow him, he implies, will not perceive his demands as unreasonable, but to be the very way he opens before them. That is, they cease to be a barrier and become instead the door to life.

The choice to enter by that door, and remain in that way will always be ours to accept or decline.

"Those who trust in him shall understand truth,

and the faithful shall abide with him in love:

because grace and peace are with his chosen ones."

Wisdom 3: 9

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