Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Challenge of Belonging.

This week’s passage from Luke becomes more poignant when we remember that Jesus
was on his way to Jerusalem when this teaching took place. Jesus was well aware of the danger he would face in Jerusalem. He knew a dark truth of which the crowds, and his disciples, were oblivious of. The crowds thought they were on their way to a showdown with the Romans and the Jewish leaders. The hope that Jesus would lead such a revolution and restore the kingdom of Israel persisted up to and after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

The crowd believed Jesus would lead a revolution. Jesus must have looked at them and thought, “How dumb can you be?!” Jesus was not going to be fitted into some role in a power game of violent revolution to restore what they thought was right. Jesus was going to live s God wants us to live. So, while on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus lays down the conditions of discipleship. He does this with powerful symbols and language.

It is clear that Jesus expects a disciple to be willing to give up everything in order to follow him. Jesus demands complete allegiance, but he is not calling for hatred of natural family ties. This statement, taken in the light of all we know about Jesus, certainly must not be taken literally. Even when understood in gentler language, it is nonetheless clear that the discipleship God calls us to and Jesus talked about and demonstrated requires the willingness to leave family and possessions, and to run the risk of losing one’s life as he would.

Seeing a man carrying his cross on the way to his own crucifixion was a familiar sight to Jesus’ hearers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had been publicly crucified in Israel for planning or participating in revolutionary activity against the Romans. His hearers certainly do not miss point but we must not think, however, that they think of this in association with the cross of Jesus, an event that was yet to come.

Jesus reinforces the demands of discipleship with two illustrations. Jesus says whenever a person is going to build a tower; he first calculates the cost of completing the job before he lays the foundation. He does this to avoid being ridiculed for starting something he is unable to finish. Neither does a king engage in battle with another king without first taking stock of the two armies to see if he can win. Jesus does not want anyone to volunteer for his campaign without counting the cost, lest they be embarrassed or even defeated because they misjudged what it would cost to follow him.

Finally, he says that anyone who does not bid farewell to his possessions cannot be one of his disciples. It is crystal clear that Jesus does not want disciples who follow him as the result of unexamined enthusiasm. There are many who offer themselves who are like the young man who wrote the following love letter to his girlfriend: “My dearest darling, I love you more than anything in the world. I would climb the highest mountain and swim the widest ocean just to be at your side. I will see you Saturday night if it does not rain. Love always, John.” Unexamined enthusiasm is hollow and unacceptable.

The cross-bearing of which Jesus speaks is something voluntarily done because of one’s commitment to Jesus Christ. Think on this unless two people count the cost before accepting the vows of marriage, they are in for some unhappy surprises, which is one of the reasons why so many marriages relationships fail. If you are considering signing up to be one of those who follow the way of Jesus, count the cost before you make the move. Read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.

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