Text: Luke 14:25-33
There once was a reporter who asked the financier JP Morgan how much it cost to operate his yacht on a yearly basis. Morgan’s reply was, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” This saying has been thrown around over the years and has become something of a joke or a dig at someone else. JP Morgan certainly didn’t have to worry about the cost of anything. With all his wealth, the price of something were just numbers on a page. Even today, in the grip of a recession, the wealthy do not seem to appear overly concerned about how much something costs if they wanted to buy something or go somewhere. In the early days of the recession, the concern was not so much about the amount of money spent, but how it would look to their peers if they were seen doing something seen to be extravagant. Those of us who are not as well off as JP Morgan certainly do have to consider the costs of any new venture, a major purchase or investment. But for more mundane things that are easily reached within our means, we certainly don’t pay too much attention what the cost is while someone who lives in public housing on a fixed income has very different ideas of where their priorities lie with what limited resources they have.
Jesus, in our Gospel reading for the week, deals with costs. He gives a few of what we call his “hard sayings” and tells a couple of parables about the importance of considering the cost of following him. The two parables draw from different lives and different scenarios but the lesson is the same. Do not take on more than you are able or what you cannot see through to completion. Jesus is warning his little rag tag band of followers as they head ever closer to Jerusalem that he is not some spiritual guru spouting nice pithy sayings, but he is inviting them to join a very costly operation. He tells them of the person building a tower who would be the laughing stock if he couldn’t finish it, and of the King who was considering going to war who would surely have to surrender if he didn’t have enough resources to defeat his opponent. And as if to underscore what he is talking about, Jesus goes ahead and says, “if you’re not willing to give up everything, you cannot be my disciple.”
There are several instances in this passage and elsewhere in the Gospels where Jesus says something like “Whoever does not do x, y, or z cannot be my disciple.” It is a refrain that he uses to talk about discipleship and to remember what it means to follow Jesus. Many new Christians find great joy as they come to faith in Christ but many also do not grow beyond that first moment and in some cases, get disillusioned when the discover that the church is full of people who are not perfect. Or become shocked when they learn our faith actually requires us to do something beyond showing up to a nice building for an hour or so once or twice a week and putting a check in the plate that comes by. Jesus wants to make it perfectly clear that following him is just about going to a fancy dress party and being in a march or a parade through the streets.
To add insult to injury, Jesus also talks about how you have to hate your family, your friends, your loved ones, even be willing to lose your very life in order to follow him. Now, a much better translation of hate would be more akin to the idea of turning away from or even having a sense of detachment. Jesus is saying that in the Kingdom of God our priorities are different. Hating one’s life is not a call to self-loathing, but Jesus does want us to understand that following him could create tensions in our lives, and with the one’s we love.
So, where is the good news in all of these tough sayings? When JP Morgan said, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” he was referring to material possessions. Jesus is talking about something we can’t live without. He’s laying out not only the best offer in town for Eternal Life, Joy, Hope and the chance to get on the Great Gospel Train of Salvation, but he has also got the only offer that will work. It is the real deal, but it will set you back a bundle. After all, it cost Jesus everything. And it will cost us as well. No change given back. All that life, joy and hope he promises is free, but it doesn’t come cheaply. It is absolutely terrible, unreasonable, even scandalous that in order to gain all of this we have to lose it all, to be willing to give up everything we thought we had ever wanted. But turning away from the priorities of this world of dog-eat-dog is absolutely one of the most liberating things we can do. When we follow Christ, we begin to live by the laws of love … Love God with all your heart, soul and strength … Love your neighbor as yourself .. and finally as Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”