Summary: Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters--and yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
In the Gospel reading for today, we possibly find Jesus at the height of His success, as we measure it. Never had He enjoyed such large crowds. People flocked to Him--and the numbers just grew larger and larger as He got closer to Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus has to ruin it by preaching a bunch of hard truths the people can’t stomach.
If we were there to advise Jesus, we’d probably tell Him, “Come on, Jesus! Don’t you care about all those people following you? Soft-peddle it; tell them what they want, so they will keep following you.”
But that’s not Jesus. He doesn’t compromise the truth, for that would be compromising Himself, the One who is Truth. Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters--and yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). “In the same way, whoever doesn’t give up everything that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
You can almost hear the mission department of our Synod gasping.
Jesus, that’s not the way to win a following! You have to give the people something they want and like. Such talk will only cause people to rebel and leave in droves.
Jesus, we know following You involves sacrifice but, if you can, keep those demands to a minimum. Let those demands lie silent in the dust. Give the people something achievable. Give them what they like. Otherwise, they will go somewhere else and listen to some other rabbi.
But that’s not Jesus. He doesn’t want anyone to be His disciple who hasn’t “calculated the cost.”
Remember that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He knows what awaits Him there. He knows that this crowd will grow to its greatest on Palm Sunday, as He rides triumphantly on a donkey into the city. Yet, He knows that as the week wears on, the crowds will begin to dwindle. He knows that, by Friday, those around Him will cry--not “Hosanna!”--but “Crucify Him!” He knows that, in the end, He will be alone. Before the end, His many followers will abandon Him, even His Father.
Jesus knows all that, and so He speaks the hard truths needed. Jesus wants the crowd to know what God expects of them if they are to be His disciples. Jesus is simply telling it like it is, using abrasive, Jewish speech patterns to a Jewish crowd.
Jesus is using exaggeration to make His point. Jesus is telling us to “hate,” but not in an emotional way. Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate, isn’t commanding us to “hate” as we use and understand the word. He’s not commanding us to store up resentment, bitterness, or rage against others. Jesus isn’t using “hate” in that way.
What Jesus means by “hate” is something different. For Jesus, “hate” is not so much a feeling, but a choice of the will. Even if your emotions tell you otherwise, whom will you always serve, above all others? That’s what Jesus means!
Jesus won’t let us slide. He won’t let us squirm away from His unyielding demands for an unwavering devotion to Him. He lays out the true cost. That’s because honoring your father and your mother doesn’t mean obeying them instead of God. That’s because loving your children doesn’t mean letting them rebel against their Savior. That’s because defending the life God has given you doesn’t mean denying Him to save yourself. Jesus just won’t let us flinch away from these hard truths.
What Jesus demands is not possible. The costs are too high, way more than we can pay. “Calculating the cost,” makes sense if we’re talking about renovating our church building. But with discipleship, it’s just flat-out impossible. The costs are too high. We can’t do it. Yet, that’s exactly the point Jesus is making! So we better not dance around His truths or change the meaning of what He says to us.
Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters--and yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). You can’t be Jesus’ disciple unless you fear, love, and trust in God above all else: More than father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters--and yes, even more than your own life! If you don’t do that, then you’ve made your family or a family member into your god. If so, that’s means that you can’t be Jesus’ disciple.
Now God does call you to love your neighbor, to honor your father and mother, and to love your spouse. But you are never to put anyone or anything above God! There’s no way around the hard truth that Jesus speaks. You can’t serve two masters. You will either despise one or love the other. Such absolute loyalty is too demanding--it’s way more than we can pay!