Giving Up Everything
Luke 14: 25 — 33
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
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.
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.
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:
So, this is an Aramaic way of saying more correctly:
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:
Here, our Lord is taking up the teaching of Deuteronomy 33: 9 as demanded of the Levites of old:
Our Lord goes on to list a further condition of discipleship, and this one will take a lot of explaining!
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!
Referring back to verses 26 and 27 Jesus says:
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.
Jesus is not on about deprivation for its own sake:
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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