(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells the large crowds of people following him what it means to be his disciple.
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
What happened to "Love your neighbour as yourself"?
At the very end of the Gospel reading, Jesus gives a clue as to what he is talking about. He says,
"none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
Well, hang on a second. He started by talking about family. We know that family members are not possessions. We belong to them and they belong to us—we belong together.
But perhaps "belong" is not a good word to use, because it is too close to the word "belongings," or things that we own like "possessions." We do not own our family and we do not control them. They are gifts from God.
Our lives, too, are a gift from God. Life is not a possession either. We do not own it. We know it is gift, and we are grateful for it. We can take a moment to thank God for these gifts now.
So when Jesus says to the crowd following him, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple," maybe he means, "whoever does not realize that all these are gift—they do not belong to you—is not really following me, because my eyes are on God who gives all to us."
Hate breaks bonds between people and we know that is not a good thing. So maybe when Jesus speaks of hating family and our lives, maybe he means breaking the bonds that are not healthy—the bonds of possessions.
When these bonds are broken, new bonds can form—healthy bonds of love and gratitude. With our eyes on Jesus, whose eyes are on God, we follow, together with our family.
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Jesus does not make it easy to be a disciple, does he? We get through the breaking of bonds and now he asks us to carry the cross. His cross? The one that leads to Golgotha, crucifixion, and death? Or does each of us have a different sort of cross, a different sort of way to follow Jesus?
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
What could this tower be? What are we invited to build? Disciples of Jesus are invited to build the Kingdom of God. What is the cost of becoming a disciple? Jesus says it is carrying the cross. Obviously, then, building the Kingdom is not going to be easy. Is not this too much? Who would do this? Are we sure we even want to try?
The people following Jesus must start to wonder if any of this is worth it.
He tells another parable:
What king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Jesus invites us to think about a king who has a big plan to go out and conquer another kingdom. His kingdom versus the other kingdom. He might have good reasons for doing this. Perhaps his kingdom has already been attacked the other kingdom. Perhaps the other king is bad. Perhaps he treats his people badly. We do not know.
The point is, he reconsiders. He-—THE KING—changes his mind. He, the most important guy, does not stick to his plan stubbornly. He does not hang onto his plan because it is HIS plan, HE thought of it, it belongs to HIM! He sees that the other king has a far better plan. He settles for peace—a pretty good deal.
We all have plans, desires we hold close to our hearts. There are so many things we would like to do. We do not like to give up on our plans.
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Even our plans can be possessions.
To be a disciple of Jesus, we have to give up our plans. Instead, we have to accept the Plan of God.
In the parable the king sees that the other king has a far better plan. Is the Plan of God far better than anything else?
“God will live with them, and they shall be his people.
God himself will be with them, and he will be their God.
He will wipe away all tears from their eyes.
There will be no more death,
no more grief or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah11:6-9)
Sounds like a good plan. We might not yet know what part we play in the plan—we might not yet know what cross we will be asked to carry—but we can tell that the Kingdom of God is worth the effort, after all. God is the better king. We settle for peace. That is a pretty good deal.