Summary: Jesus calls his followers to deny themselves and carry the cross. What does this look like? What does it mean to deny ourselves in a culture and society based on consumerism?
Luke 14:25-33 “Carrying the Cross”
Have you noticed that we appear to be buried under an avalanche of forms? When Faye had her shoulder surgery done this spring she sign enough forms to have killed two or perhaps three large trees. The paper work involved in purchasing our home wiped out an entire forest (even in our paperless society!). Even such mundane activities as horseback riding, paintball, or hiking into the Grand Canyon involve attaching one’s signature to a host of disclaimers.
Do you read all of those forms before you sign them? I know that we are supposed to, but do you? I know that I don’t. I’d still be reading the forms for the purchase of our home—and we moved in six years ago!
In the gospel lesson today, Jesus encourages his followers to read all of the paperwork before they sign on the dotted line as his followers and disciples. But what do you do if you want to be a follower of Jesus, but know that you can’t meet the terms of the contract? Or in the story that Jesus tells the members of the crowd, a person who wants to build a tower but isn’t sure if you have the funds to do it.
Luke records that large crowds were following Jesus. Many of these people were simply curious. More were probably fair weather followers—they’d stick around until the thunder clouds started to roll in and the storm winds blow. A few wanted to become Jesus’ disciples—to be accepted by Jesus as his students whom he would share his wisdom. Jesus’ words cause the entire crowd to pause and consider the cost of their desires and actions.
Jesus first tells those who were gathered around him that they must hate their family. The word for “hate” that Jesus uses doesn’t have the animosity that our English word has. The meaning is closer to “disassociate yourself from your family.”
Jesus was identifying a true cost of discipleship for the early Christians. Their acceptance of Jesus as their Lord and Savior often meant that they had to leave their family. They couldn’t worship the pagan idols that their families served. They lost their standing in the community, their influence and their identity.
How do we translate that into our lives today? There are husbands and wives who are struggling to keep their marriages together because they don’t spend enough time nurturing their relationship—they’re too busy with the other demands of life. Parents struggle to spend time with their children and influence their children’s lives. Is Jesus telling us to spend even less time with our spouses and children, or close friends and spend more time serving him?
Most of us are controlled by our family because we either go to extraordinary ends to please them or to rebel against them. Part of what Jesus is telling us is that there comes a point in our lives where we must be our own person—making decisions as expressions of our faith in Christ. My mother didn’t think it was a good idea for me to become a minister, and my brother thought it was a joke. Still, I made the decision to become a pastor—it was the only thing I felt I could do as a follower of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we need to tell the members of our family that we are going to worship, fellowship, or serve whether they join us or not. We may, perhaps, need to be firm and tell our family that Sunday is not just for families, but also for Jesus.
Try as hard as we might, however, there will be those times when we will put family before Jesus. Jesus’ words are clear, however. If we don’t disassociate ourselves from family, we can’t be his disciple.
After two thousand years, we still struggle to understand what Jesus meant when he said we had to deny ourselves and take up our cross in order to be Jesus’ disciple.
We do know that bearing a cross doesn’t mean to live with something we don’t want in our lives. People say that they bear the cross of a bad back, an unbelieving spouse, rebellious teenagers, or a slice in their golf swing. This is not what Jesus was calling his disciples to.
Most scholars believe that Jesus was encouraging his followers to live lives of sacrificial giving. If Jesus endured the cross, then his followers should be able to give their time, talents and treasures willingly and sacrificially.
We know that we cannot do this. There will be those times when comfort, ease, frustration, or fear will cause us to put our cross down. Yet, according to Jesus’ words if we put down our cross we are not worthy to be his disciples.