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Reading: Luke 14.25-33
Large crowds were travelling with Jesus; 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.’
Jesus said: ‘Gather round. I have a message for you all.’ Then, as the large crowds gathered around, Jesus outlined his manifesto for discipleship.
Unlike the unrealistic, and often unbelievable, promises we are used to hearing from politicians, Jesus’ manifesto is one of stark truth. Jesus does not promise a life of wealth and glory to his disciples. Rather, he speaks of isolation, persecution and poverty. In this rational and materialistic world, Jesus’ pattern of discipleship would not win any elections, and yet it is the only route to eternal life in God’s nearer presence for the whole of eternity.
Our reading opens with a demand that true disciples must hate those nearest and dearest to them. To understand this counter-cultural condition of discipleship we need to explore the meaning of the word translated as ‘hate’. For us, the word has connotations of extreme dislike, even detestation. In Jesus’ world it was different. To ‘hate’ meant to ‘love less’. Rather than encouraging his disciples to detest their parents, spouse, children and siblings, Jesus is reminding us of our calling to love God more. He emphasizes this call by warning us that discipleship can demand sacrifice. Not only may disciples be called to relegate their closest relations to second place, but they may also have to make costly sacrifices to follow the God who calls them to love and to follow him into eternal life. None of this makes easy reading.
There is another element to today’s reading that we should not ignore. Jesus speaks of buildings and battles within his description of true discipleship. At first glance, these words may seem to have little to do with the core message of today’s reading, but that is not the case. Jesus is talking about the way in which we live out our lives on earth. We plan, we hope and we dream. Those plans and hopes and dreams can, however, prove to be totally unrealistic. No matter how much we might long for wealth and influence, we live in a world where our status is dictated by negotiation and compromise. As Jesus outlines the challenges of discipleship, he also reminds us that there is one, infinitely greater than ourselves, who knows the path we should be taking through this life. Sometimes that path will be smooth, but there will always come a moment of challenge. It is during those moments of challenge that we need to be ready to place God before everyone and everything else … even if that means ‘hating’ our loved ones and sacrificing all we have.