Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “ Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’
The continuing hard line according to Luke’s Jesus.
I am reminded of those films where a band of handpicked, although not altogether respectable, fighting men are given an impossible mission; and the talk given by the ‘harsh but patriotic’ sergeant major before they send their ramshackle troops ‘over the top’. And despite being promised the worst of scenarios –the warriors shoulder arms and do it anyway.
Great crowds,thousands, follow Jesus on his travels; the disciples at the end fill no more than an upper room. Was it something he said? Perhaps it was; perhaps it was this.
The people who come to listen to Jesus are, more or less, split into two – those who listen and those who pay attention; those who think his vision is a good idea and those who believe it is the way to live; those who believe ‘someone’ should do something and those who believe that 'someone' is them. There are those who will wave Jesus off with maybe some new thoughts in their hearts and those whose hearts are called to follow; the disciples.
If these disciples have been paying attention, then they will be realising what it is Jesus expects from them; and what he expects is a total turnaround on worldly priorities.
But surely not family; not love? And not ‘hate’?
Jesus teaches a certain type of love; agape love is a love that seeks to bring healing no matter who or what the situation. It is an unconditional and driving love; where there may be a cost and you will be the one who pays.
We love as if love is something to be rationed, gifted, given to the chosen few. That we love those who love us – that there is a rationale that tells us when people fit or don’t fit.
When Jesus says ‘Love your neighbour’ this is the love he means – this love is not defined by family loyalty; affection; romance or desire; except the desire that the ‘neighbour’ receives the love, care and respect that we would want for ourselves.
The opposite of this kind of love is not hate – but indifference; to look the other way because we have no connection with those who need our help; that there are no ties that bind; that there is nothing in it for us.
So when Jesus says ‘hate’ this is not about acting against your family in a cruel or malicious way. Jesus wants us to remove the limits about who we love. He wants us to accept that a wider, more important,more godly love exists outside these limits.
This love has it's own paradox - that if it were possible for us to love as Jesus wishes us to love then our friends, our families would be just as loved as they are now; and equally so would everyone else. It would be the sense of possession or exclusion that would be removed. Jesus asks us to remove these limitations –there is only love.
Love that is ’ wide open’ to all, for all.
We are listening to Jesus' dream for us here - his vision of the Kingdom. And that he is eager enough to teach us is testimony to his faith in our humanity. His belief that there are some of us who are ready to make the journey.
But Jesus also knows how hard it will be to live this life. He has been the model; it's nothing he hasn't lived through himself. Discipleship is putting your head above the parapet; walking the rocky road; being the odd one out. Unlike whatever we think now, Jesus knows that being a Christian will not be nice, not comfortable and not easy. So he warns us – and the whole of this part of Luke has been warning us – ‘know what you are letting yourself in for’.
The journey is going to be difficult enough – if you make your commitment and burn your bridges; if you leave your family; your field and your fortune then what will happen when things go wrong; when it’s not downhill all the way; when your own cross gets too much to bear? Where do you turn when the doubts set in and you decide it’s not for you?
There are some journeys it is better not to take than to turn back when there is nothing to turn back to.What if? What if?
We all belong to God, each and every one of us, but we live with the belief that our free will allows us to follow or ignore the paths that God suggests for us.And we should believe this - God is no puppet-master.
But if you are called and you answer; if you consciously make the decision to turn your 'self' over to God then this is no longer true – your life is ‘lost’. You have taken the King’s shilling and the path before you offers no buy-out clause.
Because now you’re on Kingdom business and God’s in charge.