No Turning Back

Man hiking up difficult slope under clouds
Photo by Alex Holt on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

While I’m writing this post, “quiet quitting” is the Internet’s fascination and furor of the moment. As best I can tell, quiet quitting means ceasing to go above and beyond in one’s job. Quiet quitters fulfill basic employment requirements, but they do not seek out extra responsibilities, and they do not look to their jobs for their “passion” or otherwise define themselves by their paid work. Quiet quitters may be biding their time until they can actually quit their jobs, or they may simply be adjusting their relationship to their work to one they consider more sustainable.

The quiet-quitting model provides an apt description of how most of us Christians fulfill our roles as disciples: enough to get by, enough to look the part, but never above and beyond. After all, in this week’s Gospel lesson, the Lucan Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet regarding the requirements of discipleship. Disciples have to be all in; there can be no quiet quitters among the followers of Jesus. We must be willing to reject our families and rid ourselves of our possessions. To invoke the ubiquitous pop-culture aphorism from Yoda, “Do or do not; there is no try.”

Still, discipleship, it is imperative to note, is not a job. You, Working Preacher, may be a so-called “professional Christian,” but you are not called to be more—or less—of a disciple than any of the other Christians in your pews. I think that sometimes those of us in pastoral or theological vocations forget that the demands of discipleship are not placed on us alone, but on all who seek to follow Jesus. We are not paid to be Christians; we’re paid to complete particular tasks for and with the community that calls us. But the sacrifices of discipleship—the complete orientation of our lives toward the way of Jesus—do not set us apart from other Christians. On the contrary, those sacrifices join us to them in camaraderie and common purpose.

Many published versions of Luke 14:25-33 will add an editorial heading to it: “The Cost of Discipleship.” But that phrase is not in Luke’s text. I will admit that I have an aversion to economic metaphors, particularly in the realm of theology. The idea that anything and everything must be bartered, counted, and exchanged seems anathema to God’s extravagant and practically nonsensical grace that beckons, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).

I expect the tendency toward the language of “cost” is drawn not only from the idea that one must sell all possessions, but also from the example Jesus gives: the builder who fails to calculate the cost of his project and then is ridiculed when he is unable to finish (verse 30). The assumption that gets us from Jesus’ metaphor to “the cost of discipleship” is that the disciples are like the builders. In the example where kings going to war, that means the disciples are like the king who is sure to calculate whether he can win with fewer forces or must look for favorable terms of surrender. Maybe that’s indeed what Jesus, or at least Luke, intended with these examples.

But I find myself wondering if we’re plugging the wrong characters into these variables. Is it possible that Jesus is sizing up his own resources—those who would be his disciples—and has concluded that he can’t afford followers with divided loyalties? Are his mission and purpose dragged down by the way we cling to the comforts of this world? In that case, this passage would be better titled, “The Cost of Disciples.”

Alternately, perhaps we could dispense with the language of cost altogether. After all, Jesus’ parables are not necessarily meant to be allegories, where every element neatly aligns in a one-to-one ratio with the reality they are illuminating. The examples of the builder and the king call us to size up the whole of the situation when contemplating discipleship. Following Jesus becomes not a calculation but a re-orientation, a turning toward the cross and away from the world, walking a new path (see Deuteronomy 30:16-17)—or, as the hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” puts it, “the world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back.”

Luke 14:25-33 happens to be the Gospel text appointed for the weekend of Labor Day, the United States holiday that honors the American worker. While discipleship is not a job, the intersection of this passage with Labor Day reminds us that discipleship does matter for our jobs. Discipleship has bearing on how we make money, and how much of it we make, and what we do with it once we make it. If we are turned toward Jesus in every aspect of life, then the cross is before us in our work and our play. In other words, discipleship is our vocation, regardless of what our jobs are.

The path of discipleship can be an exceedingly lonely one—after all, this passage begins with the specter of estrangement from some of our closest relationships. And yet, the promise of discipleship is that we never really walk that path alone. We always walk with Jesus, and as we do, we encounter others who have turned in the same direction. As a Working Preacher, you are specially equipped in your job to invite others into your shared vocation. Blessings on your work, this week and always!