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Counting the Cost

September 08, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel text, where Jesus tells the crowds, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Here ends our text, dear Christian friends …

Lately, it seems like we’ve been inundated with the sayings of what some may call the “Mean Jesus.” We like the Jesus who heals diseases, who washes feet, who provides miraculous food for starving masses. We like that Jesus, the “Nice Jesus.” … But this Jesus … talking about hating one’s mom, dad, brother, sister, wife, kids, and oneself in order to be His disciple … well, that just sounds mean. It doesn’t sound like Jesus at all! I won’t dispute that; it does sound mean … but let’s allow Jesus’s words to stand. Let’s take His words honestly, examine them closely, and try to understand what He’s saying.

First, the context. Jesus has a large crowd around Him, presumably people who have been following after Him for some time. No doubt, many in the crowd had thought following Jesus would be wonderful! They had seen Him stick it to the authorities, do these incredible signs and wonders, and who knows? They might get a free meal out of it! To follow Jesus certainly seemed nice, easy going! Well, at a certain point, Jesus turns, presumably without warning, and drops this mean-sounding truth-bomb upon all within earshot: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” That word … hate. That hits us hard, especially considering who Jesus is telling us to hate: our families, our loved ones, our closest neighbors. How can Jesus possibly ask this of us? Does He realize what He is asking us to do? His words here make us uncomfortable, and undoubtedly, they made the crowd uncomfortable when Jesus first spoke them!

Not surprisingly, some scholars have suggested that Jesus is using this word as a Hebrew idiom, a turn of phrase. They’ve suggested that it should be translated with the idea of preference or comparison – you know, your love for and devotion to Jesus should be so great, that your love and devotion for family would seem like hate by comparison. But the Greek doesn’t play out like that. This word miseo is best translated as hate – as in, detest, abhor, not merely as a lesser form of love. Looking at other places you see it in the New Testament, there’s no evidence it should be translated otherwise. Indeed, the only reason to suggest a different translation … is because the reader needs to soften the shocking implications of Jesus’s statement. We want to change His words here into good news. We want to soften it and make it say, “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well.” I get it; only four chapters prior, Jesus confirmed the summation of the law was to love God and love neighbor. Now, He says that those who don’t hate their closest neighbors cannot be His disciple. In the face of this cognitive dissonance, let alone the rest of Jesus’s teachings, it seems absurd to suggest that He is calling us to hate our loved ones.

But that’s what Jesus says … and He doesn’t end there. He then speaks a word even more audacious, scandalous, and radical: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” If hating one’s family seems impossible, this is downright unfathomable, especially for the masses to whom Jesus has just spoken. See, to the ancient Judeans in that crowd, to bear a cross was a sign of abject humiliation, of being degraded to subhuman levels … and Jesus said it was required of any who would follow Him! The impertinence of Jesus! To suggest that one willingly subject himself to that shame and scandal, and yet here He is, telling the crowds that only one who subjects himself to this ultimate form of dishonor could be His disciple.

Shocking as Jesus’s words are, they are not there simply for shock value. This is not Jesus engaging in first-century click-bait. This is a call to heed the radical nature of the call Jesus places on those who would follow Him, that they would count the potential cost and realize “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has, all that he is, cannot be my disciple.”

This is the theme that has been building through Luke’s account of Jesus’s ministry: there is a very real cost to being a follower of Jesus. It will cost the entirety of your being. There is not time to go back and bury the dead, no time to say farewell. The cost of discipleship is nothing less than a complete breach with the things of this world. And what are the things of this world if not those nearest and dearest to us – our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and ourselves? This is a call to abandon oneself, to renounce self-reliance and self-justification.

Does this mean that we can have no relationship with our mothers and fathers, our sister and brothers? Of course not. As we look to the teachings of Jesus on what it means to follow Him, we see that it would be impossible to follow Him and not have deep meaningful loving relationships with those people. However, it does mean that our relationships are transformed by our relationship with Christ. Our relationships with everyone from family to neighbor happen in light of—because of—our relationship with Jesus. And this relationship, we are assured, will cause discord. Jesus promised, repeatedly, that persecution will come to those who follow Him; there will be those in the world, those who are counted as friends, those who are family … that will reject us—that is the cost of following Jesus.

Have you considered the cost? Is it one you can pay? It’s a hard question, no doubt, but are you willing to allow your family, all those you love most dearly, to persecute, harangue, and shun you because you are following Jesus? Will you willingly walk away from friendships you’ve enjoyed for years because you refuse to worship any other gods but Jesus? Will you continue to pray for your children, even as they taunt and mock you for your belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection? Are you willing to endure the scorn and the shame and the humiliation that often accompanies being a Christian? Are you willing to stand for the truth in spite of the inevitable blowback you will receive? Are you willing to deny your very being, take up your cross, and follow Jesus?

I’ll let you wrestle with that … and you will wrestle, because this is the reality of being a Christian – it does come with a cost. You are called to sacrifice, but truthfully, it’s often more than we can bear. This is why we take solace and comfort in the One who sacrificed himself on our behalf! We bristle at the thought of hating our loved ones, and we squirm away from the notion of having to sacrifice of ourselves, but the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, who was despised and rejected by men, who gladly bore the scorn and shame and humiliation, the wagging heads, the spitting lips, the striking fists … and the oppressively heavy wood of the cross. All borne for you. The same Jesus, who in our text explained the truly radical demands of His calling, would reveal the radical nature of His love as He died on that cross to pay for the sins of the feeble, weak, pusillanimous creatures He called man and woman. Jesus has called you, my friends, to an audacious and scandalous faith. Your sins are forgiven, so count the cost – especially the cost Him who paid.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.