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8 September 2019
Luke 14:25 Now large crowds were travelling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Three times Luke underlines the final journey to Jerusalem and this reading is found between the second and third mentions, that is, 13:22-17:10. The initial paragraph resembles Matthew 10:37-39, which is, however, much softer in expression. The two parabolic sayings resemble OT wisdom (see below) and are in some tension with the carefree attitude portrayed in 12:22-34.
The excerpt for today is best read in light of all of chapter 14. The earlier verses (1-24) dealt with the Pharisees and their tragic “missing” the great end-time banquet of God. Verses 25-33 (34-35) deal the equally tragic destiny of would-be disciples, invited to the banquet but accepting without awareness of the cost of discipleship. There is a block in each case: in vv. 1-24 the block is material things and status; in vv. 25-35 the block is family and even attachment to life itself. In a word, superficial enthusiasm that cannot be sustained reveals the same gap between the ideal and the real that is found in Pharisaic tradition.
Thus, our reading is part of a longer discourse on discipleship running from v. 25 to v. 35 (restored above for convenience). Luke underlines regularly the cost of discipleship. Cf. Lk 9:57-62 and 18:24-30.
Kind of writing
The warnings about the cost of discipleship may be found also in Matthew 10:37-38; 5:13; Mk 9:49-50. The two parables are really wisdom warnings before you undertake a project.
Old Testament background
The command to honour your parents is fundamental to the ethical vision of the Hebrew Bible and its apparent rejection something of a shock technique. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments with an explicit reward.
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)
New Testament foreground
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19–21)
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59–60)
No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26–27; compare Mt 27:32 and Mk 15:21)
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1Corinthians 1:18–25)
For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:19–21 NET)
Verse 25 This is part of the journey to Jerusalem motif found in three stages: 9:51-13:21; 13:22-17:10; 17:11-19:27. The “turning” of Jesus is used in Luke to express critical moments of contrasting attitudes: Luke 7:9, 44; 9:55; 10:23; 14:25; 22:61; 23:28. All the gospels mention the crowds which Jesus drew. Vv. 25-26 serve as introductions. The words are addressed, therefore, to any would-be disciple.
Verse 26 This is a saying taken from the Q source (or perhaps a variant oral tradition). Matthew’s “love more” is much less harsh. Luke, using the hyperbole of the prophet, emphasises that the primary loyalty of the Christian transcends even the fundamental loyalty, not to say love, towards family. Cf. 8:19-21 and 9:59-60. To hate in Hebrew also has the connotation of to leave aside. See above Jesus’ response to his own mother and brothers. Cf. the comment of Peter: Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” (Luke 18:28) On life, contrast: He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:22–23) Cf. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25) In Luke, the list of family members is extensive and pointed.
Verse 27 Cf. Luke 9:23-27; 14:27; 23:26. Follow is the fundamental invitation to discipleship. Cf. When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:11) After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him. (Luke 5:27–28) There is a contrast with the “going after” false gods in the Hebrew Bible. What about “taking up the cross” as an expression? “Every criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back” (Plutarch, Sera 554A–B). Everyone knew what crucifixion meant and anyone listening in the first century ad would have heard the saying fairly literally.
Verse 28 Two supplementary arguments follow. The tower in question could possibly a watchtower in a vineyard (cf. Mt 21:33 and Mk 12:1) although other scholars reject this (perhaps unnecessary) identification. Calculating is a feature of the prudential parables peculiar to Luke.
The Gospel of Thomas offers an intriguing parallel parable in saying 98.
Jesus said, “The Father’s kingdom is like a person who wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. Then he killed the powerful one.” GThom 98
Verse 29 The argument is from shame, the risk of appearing foolish.
Verse 30 Implied, then, is a warning not to undertake discipleship in a superficial frame of mind.
Verse 31 Possibly because of the military connotations of a watchtower, Luke adds a parable on a much larger scale about a king going to war. Accordingly, the emotional impact undergoes an escalation. The clear imbalance of forces obliges the one going to war to calculate and, very sensibly, even to seek terms.
Verse 32 The image of surrendering continues the motif of failure from the previous parable. The parallel with the first parable breaks down in v. 32 when terms are sought. In any case, the message is clear: Do not undertake discipleship lightly.
Verse 33 With all the calculations expressed in these two parables, the conclusion is piquant: unless you calculate that you must put aside calculation, don’t count on being a disciple! The one resource necessary is the capacity to give up resources. Jesus sets down in the plainest language the condition of unswerving loyalty. Possessions constitute a large theme (and threat) in Luke-Acts: 12:33; 18:22 and Acts 5:1-11.
Pointers for prayer
1. The passage is a call to both radical and practical discipleship. When have you found that in order to achieve a certain objective you had to make it a priority, and then take the practical steps necessary to reach your goal? What were the benefits to you when you did this?
2. “Hate” is prophetic exaggeration for the uncompromising loyalty Jesus seeks in disciples. There may be times when people make demands in conflict with fidelity to another relationship. This can be painful. When have you found that being clear about your priorities helped you in that situation?
3. Jesus uses parables here to tell us that in important human affairs we do not settle for vague aspirations. When have you found that some element of practical planning has been necessary to make progress with a project? What has this taught you about making the most of your life and of your time?
God of the ages, you call the Church to keep watch in the world and to discern the signs of the times.
Grant us the wisdom which your Spirit bestows, that with courage we may proclaim your prophetic word and complete the work that you have set before us.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Thought for the day
A life without wonder would be very barren indeed. Babies are great at wonder and good communicators (in whatever field, such as nature or cosmology) have kept an almost childlike sense of discovery. Our faith, too, gets its energy from a combination of wonder, discovery and, betimes, perplexity. Some of the most inspiring passages in the Bible reflect this. For example, in Sirach 43, after an exhaustive review of the wonders of creation, the writer closes with the arresting words, We could say more but could never say enough; let the final word be: “He is the all.” (Sirach 43:27)
God of all creation, we stand before your handiwork in awe and gratitude. God of salvation, nothing can ever separate us from your love. God of our inner life, sustain our surprise!