Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Would-be disciples must acknowledge at the outset that following Jesus will cost them everything

September 4, 2022

Gospel
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Commentary on Luke 14:25-33



In Luke 14:25–33, Jesus’ teaching takes a sobering turn as he underlines the demands of discipleship. Preparing to engage this from the pulpit, preachers may wish first to render vividly the crowds’ joyous amazement at witnessing Jesus’ power over demons, diseases, and disabilities. Since his first public healing, the exorcism of a man subjugated by “an unclean demon” (4:33–37), Jesus has been sought by throngs of people yearning to hear his wise teachings and be healed of their afflictions (5:15; 6:18; 7:21). 

The Gospel of Luke is crowded with crowds (oxloi) who are “filled with awe” (5:26) at Jesus’ words and deeds. Multitudes hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (6:17–49); a large crowd watches as Jesus raises a widow’s son at Nain; they glorify God, praising Jesus as “a great prophet” (7:11–17). A captivating teacher and wonder-worker, Jesus is acclaimed and followed by thousands (9:14; 12:1). Seasoned believers, seekers, and skeptics will benefit from a compelling reminder that what Jesus is doing is utterly astonishing. Those in the pews who have never studied Scripture will need to be told that Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit (3:22; 4:1, 14, 18; 10:21), an agent of unparalleled importance in the Third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. What God is doing in Jesus is nothing short of spectacular.

In our passage, Jesus warns that following him will require that disciples “hate” (miseō) their family members and “even life itself” (14:26), choosing instead the path of the cross. The Matthean version of this shared tradition is milder: Jesus says those who love family members more than they love him are not worthy of him (Matthew 10:37). The Lukan saying is shocking, and preachers should address it, not least to steer hearers away from the misunderstanding that violent antagonism could be the will of God. 

In Jewish traditions, “hate” is used regularly of the animosity between actual enemies, to be sure. But it is also used in binary wisdom aphorisms employing “love” and “hate” as paradigmatic responses of discernment: the wicked are said to hate discipline, justice, and knowledge, while the righteous hate wickedness, falsehood, and gossip (for example, Psalms 45:7; 50:17; 97:10; 119:163; Proverbs 1:29; Sirach 19:6). Preachers should help their congregations understand that Luke 14:26 is not advocating intense hostility toward kin and life, but, rather, is promoting the steadfast refusal to allow something less valuable to displace something more valuable. John Carroll observes that in Luke, “the priority of the realm of God is pictured in the most extreme terms imaginable … Jesus is challenging listeners to embrace a singular commitment and allegiance to him.”1 Preachers can remind their congregations of Jesus’ avowal in 8:20–21 that his true kin are not blood relatives but “those who hear the word of God and do it.” On this, the preacher might teach about the new household of faith (Galatians 6:10; see also Ephesians 2:19) sustained by the invincible love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35–39).

Elucidating the challenges of discipleship, Jesus draws comparisons to two other initiatives: building a tower and undertaking a military campaign. Both of these require advance assessment of available resources and capacity. Per Jesus’ pedagogy, builders dare not begin structures they cannot finish, and a ruler should yield before battle if the adversary enjoys an overwhelming advantage. Yet judicious decision-making in these cases is not truly analogous to calculating the costs of discipleship. Concerning the illustration of building a tower: how could any disciple assess in advance whether they have the resources to stand firm in the face of social ostracization, incarceration, torture, or the threat of execution? Remember that in all four Gospels, Peter learns in advance about an upcoming moment of betrayal—his threefold denial of Jesus—and nevertheless will prove unable to avoid that heartbreaking renunciation of allegiance to his Lord. Concerning the illustration of battling a stronger adversary: how could Jesus’ followers hope to overcome the legions arrayed against them, whether the enemy be imagined as Roman imperial troops or malevolent spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:11–12)? 

Luke has crafted a brilliant paradox here: the building project is no measurable structure of clay and timber but the kingdom of God, and the battle, already underway, is being waged on no earthly battlefield. Would-be disciples must acknowledge at the outset that following Jesus will cost them everything, and they cannot know what lies ahead until they take up the cross and follow their Lord. Jesus’ followers have been given the sternest warning Jesus can deliver—yet it spurs only eagerness for the journey. Those who choose the way of the cross after this will be joyful to persevere daily, for their Lord has already exhorted them to take up their cross “daily” (kath hēmeran, 9:23). That adverbial phrase, absent from the Synoptic parallels (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34), matters for the Third Gospel. Preachers can emphasize that the daily choice to follow Jesus is vital for Luke’s perspective on discipleship. When facing adversity, disciples must look daily neither to kinship networks nor to some other resource or power to save them. They must look only to Jesus.

Jesus concludes with a powerful statement epitomizing what he has just been saying: those who follow him must be ready to give up everything they have (14:33). In view here are “possessions” in the fullest sense: not simply discrete objects, but all the holdings that entangle Jesus’ disciples in the business of securing their families’ flourishing, all the things they tend and over which they exercise managerial obligations, everything for which they plan and work and negotiate. Following Jesus must be at the heart of all that a disciple undertakes. Here, preachers can offer meaningful examples of following Jesus in all things daily. From the pulpit, they might share the inspiring stories of martyrs and saints, then invite hearers’ reflections on simple ways to live wholeheartedly into love of God and neighbor. 


Notes

  1. John T. Carroll, Luke, New Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 307.