Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.” – Luke 14:25-33
Note that Jesus is much more concerned with quality than quantity. Most of us would think if we had a large following we should be more careful about what we say so as to avoid offending any of them. The Lord, instead, seems to go out of His way to turn people off and thin out the crowds. He says things that are difficult to grasp, esoteric, and controversial – not for the sake of controversy at all but simply because they are true. Some might find it easy enough to get offended by this “preaching hate”, as Jesus is here. Imagine someone today telling our society – its only virtue seems to be tolerance – to hate anything.
Of course, what the Lord is telling us to hate is not our family itself but those flatland aspects of family relations that entrap us and hinder us from entering the kingdom. Detachment – not in an objectified, disinterested sense – but in terms of not deriving our worth and direction from the world system is what He tells us we need. I cannot allow my family to define me. I cannot allow even who I see myself as to define me.
If we are going to build a tower – that is, if we are going to do something vertical, we do need a foundation in the horizontal. But if we are able to lay only the foundation our efforts will appear to be a senseless joke. Foundations – for example, righteous living, corporate worship, and prayer – only make sense if we are building on them in another plane.
Then Jesus asks another question about finishing things. What is the point of fighting a battle you are bound to lose? If the end is death, why cling to your little flatland fiefdom? The lives of far too many people are filled with pretentiousness. They are masks, empty shells that will crumble away, cocoons without a caterpillar. Why would a person struggle to hang onto this imitation life when the real is available for nothing? All one has to do, Jesus says, is surrender. Give up the pretensions and enter the kingdom of God. We may end up not looking like much in this life, but someday we will burst forth in freedom and beauty, a glorious thing with wings, no longer bound to the surface, soaring.
Jesus is not asking us to abandon our families and our responsibilities to go live under a bridge. He is asking us to “give them up”, not get rid of them. We are wont to ignore what is possibly the most obvious thing imaginable. No one really owns any material property, and all that is visible passes away. We may have the privilege of using a possession for a number of years but the day will come when it passes into the hand of another, and there will be nothing we can do about it. In light of this, the Lord says, there’s no point in clinging to the things of this world. Accept them with gratitude, use and enjoy them as one is able, and leave them in God’s possession.
My daughter called last night because she was upset and found herself thinking about taking a drink. She talked about how she had wanted to be successful and not disappoint us. I told her that success is not about what we do or have, but about who we are to become. What looks like a failure is merely a reset, if we can receive it. It is a chance to get back on track, to stop living only on the surface of accomplishments, accolades and acclaim. We are on this long strange trip to unite (or perhaps reunite) with our true being, to become what we really are or what we are really meant to be, and whatever moves us in that direction is good. I’m glad she told me she loves me but if her love for me kept her trapped in notching achievements while living a shattered, inauthentic life, I’d rather she hated me.
Happy New Year!