Now large crowds were travelling 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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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.” Or 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.
‘Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ (NRSV).
Following Jesus is a costly exercise. Around our world today there are many people and places where the ‘cost’ of discipleship is not only considered. For many it is also paid.
Perhaps, as we read the passage above this confronting reality should not take us by surprise. Our faith was founded by one who carried ‘the cross’. Since then uncounted souls have imitated Jesus’ lead.
But for many of us – especially in the developed world – this reality makes us wonder if we have ever truly considered the cost of discipleship. We may have – symbolically – died and been raised with Christ in baptism. But what of this as reality?
Jesus was an adamant defender of love for others and rebuked the pharisees when their laws bypassed this core command. Yet here his explicit, central, and repeated call to love sits awkwardly: ‘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.’
Many scholars have, rightly, named such passages as hyperbole – the exaggeration of reality in order to highlight a contrast. Family and life are good gifts we are called to treasure and enjoy. But when these gifts begin to replace God they have moved into the realm of idolatry. Rather than reasons to head the call of God they become poor excuses not to follow.
And we follow one who carried the cross.
From here Jesus asks two questions of his listeners. They are urged to consider the actions of, first, a builder, and secondly, of a king. Both seek to complete a task: the builder will purchase and construct in order to make a tower; the king will weigh up the fighting capacity of his army against another and decide how best to bring about peace.
Each answer points, I suggest, to a different reality of discipleship.
The builder reminds us of the possibility of setting out and not enduring to the end. There are here echoes of seeds without soil and wheat choked by weeds.
But the king points to the courage to lay down one’s life. Make no mistake: this king is unlikely to escape entering negotiations for peace with his own life – and much less with any of his possessions. He is choosing between risking the life of his soldiers and offering his own life on their behalf.
He is essentially an exemplar for what Jesus is trying to say: ‘…none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’
We cannot follow Jesus while holding to either life – or others – as our own.
It would seem Jesus is looking for a people who can be called pure salt. Perhaps these are ones who courageously consider – and follow – the cross-carrying Jesus.