I must confess to you that on this Sunday when we want to promote and encourage the ‘mission and outreach work’ that we are all called to do as disciples of our Lord, my first reaction when I saw that the Gospel text appointed for today was this one was, ‘oh boy. Not exactly the text that I would have chosen for Mission Sunday.’
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple… Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” See what I mean?
Just before this, Luke reported that Jesus told a “Parable about a Great Banquet” where everyone was invited to come. And after several refusals, the Master sent His servants saying, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” Now that would have made a good reading for Mission Sunday.
Jesus turns to the ‘great crowds that accompanied him,” who presumably, are those responded positively to those servants who went out into the streets and lanes and the highways and the hedges with their gracious invitation to come to the banquet.
And wouldn’t we have expected Jesus to be so pleased with the response and welcomed them and made ‘accepted’ and ‘affirmed’ them? That would have made a good reading for a Mission Sunday.
But instead, our dear Lord tells these ‘seekers’ that they should ‘count the cost’ of following Him. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In all of the courses I’ve taken and books I’ve read on how to do effective ‘outreach’ and ‘evangelism’ I’ve never come across any that recommend an approach like this.
Those of you who use “Facebook” or “Instagram” are interested in getting as many people to ‘follow’ you and ‘like’ you as you can. Can you imagine if Jesus had a “Facebook” page and before you could “like” Him or “follow” Him, you had to commit to these terms?
So then, just what did you mean when you confessed, “I believe in God the Father almighty,” and “I believe in Jesus Christ,” and “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? Have you considered what that confession will ‘cost’ you? Are you prepared to pay the price?
Our Lord wants to make a distinction between those who ‘accompany’ Him and those who are ‘My disciples.’
Luke writes, “Now great crowds accompanied Him…” They liked everything that they heard from Jesus and they liked what they saw Him do.
In a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is running as fast as they can to meet the ‘status quo’ which keeps moving further and further out, Jesus preached, “humble yourselves” and “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear. For the Father knows what you need. And are you not far more precious than the birds of the air.”
In a world filled with empty promises, He made things happen. If they were sick, He healed them. If they were hungry, He fed them. If they ran out of wine, no problem. If a child died, just call Jesus and He’ll wake her up.
This is the Jesus whom people love to “accompany.” Who heals your diseases and cures your arthritis and gives you what you need to be happy and healthy and financially secure. This is the Jesus who makes all things possible for you. And your only limitation is how much you’re willing to ask Him to do for you.
“Now great crowds accompanied Him…”
So far, we haven’t even mentioned the very purpose and goal for which Jesus Christ came into this world and for which He has set His face to go to Jerusalem and is on this journey that He is on. If our Lord’s purpose and goal was to make us more comfortable and satisfied with our life in this world, however long that time between our birth and our death might be, He would have had a much different message for the “great crowds that accompanied Him” than He did.
But Jesus Christ has come into this world and He has set His face to go to Jerusalem and He is on this journey to the cross and the to atone for all of your sins, and reconcile you with God the Father by making you holy and righteous in His sight, and giving you a life of joy and peace and security that this world cannot give and that has no end.
C.S. Lewis captures the intent of our Lord’s words to the “great crowds that accompanied Him” very well. “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
“Disciples” of Jesus follow Him because they believe that in Him and Him alone they have the one thing necessary. They have counted the cost and they know that no matter how great the cost, it is nothing, less than nothing compared to the reward that only Jesus Christ can give – forgiveness for all of your sins, life and salvation, peace with God, a seat at the banquet table.
Jesus identifies the one thing that can lead us to deny Him and forfeit the reward – THAT HE HAS ALREADY WON AND THAT IS ALREADY OURS IN OUR BAPTISM. That one thing which can ‘separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus’ is, of all things, ‘LOVE’ – our ‘love’ for our family, our ‘love’ for ourselves, our ‘love’ for our reputation and acceptance by others, our ‘love’ of our possessions.
The word that comes from the mouth of the Son of God and that drives this whole reading into our ears is the word ‘hate.’ “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Our Lord is calling us, not to ‘LOVE,’ but to ‘HATE.’
It’s easy to list the ways that ‘loved ones’ and ‘loved self’ and ‘loved things’ can get between me and Jesus. I think we all know how that works. And I think we’ve all been caught between that rock and hard place.
And we’ve all ‘COUNTED THE COST’ and chosen to ‘LOVE’ we should have ‘HATED’ and ‘HATED’ what we should have ‘LOVED.’ And how often have we confessed and hoped and prayed that Jesus doesn’t ‘HATE’ me but still ‘LOVES’ me, wretched man that I am?
The principle at work here is this, ‘we flee from and want to be rid of what we hate.’ ‘We run to and want to hold onto what we love.’ ‘We flee from and want to be rid of what we hate.’ ‘We run to and want to hold onto what we love.’
Our problem is that we run to what we should ‘hate.’ And we flee from what we should ‘love.’ We are disordered people.
Our problem is not just that we don’t ‘LOVE’ enough but that we don’t ‘HATE’ enough. We get these two things terribly confused and we ‘love’ what we should ‘hate’ and we ‘hate’ what we should ‘love.’
Eve should have ‘hated’ that fruit on the tree and the word the serpent spoke to her, but she ‘loved’ it. And she ‘hated’ God for not wanting her to have what she ‘loved.’
Adam should have ‘hated’ his own wife for holding that fruit to his lips for him to eat. But Adam ‘loved’ His wife and ‘hated’ God for giving her to him.
We are ‘disordered’ people.
The ‘hate’ that our Lord is speaking of and calling us to here is a ‘holy hate’ that ‘loves’ the neighbor, even our own family member, even ourselves, even while ‘hating’ the temptations to sin. We are to ‘hate’ the sin and ‘love’ the sinner, even as our Lord ‘hates’ our sin while ‘loving’ us with His perfect love.
It should be obvious to us by now that what our Lord has called us to is a war that we cannot win. We are far too weak and the forces against us in this are far too strong. And we completely outnumbered. Which of us haven’t ‘counted the cost’ of discipleship and concluded that the price is one that we cannot pay?
Our Lord makes a radical demand on the “great crowd accompanying Him” that leaves everyone in that crowd wondering inside themselves, if not crying out with a loud voice, “what then shall we do?”
In answer to His ‘radical demand’ Jesus responds with His ‘radical grace.’ Jesus Christ has set His face to go to Jerusalem and is on this journey to win the war that we cannot win. Because He is ‘not disordered’ but perfectly ‘ordered’ with the Father, He ‘hates’ everything that would separate us from God’s love. And He ‘loves’ all that is good, and right, and true.
This disordered world ‘hates’ the One who is perfect love, incarnate. And in its ‘hatred’, it crucified Him who ‘loves’ the world. But in His ‘love’ for this disordered world, Jesus took up His cross, and bore all of the world’s ‘hate’ in Himself.
And on the 3rd Day, the victory was won. “Love” triumphed over “hate.” And on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit began to rightly order the hearts and minds of disordered men and women and boys and girls, one at a time, through the reordering death and resurrection of Holy Baptism. So that we would strive to ‘hate’ what we should ‘hate’ and ‘love’ what we should ‘love.’
This disordered world continues to ‘hate’ the ones who ‘love’ Jesus. But Jesus continues to ‘love’ those whom this disordered world ‘hates.’
So, we follow Jesus, not because we have counted the cost and determined that we are able to pay it, but because we have counted the cost and know that we cannot – but that He has. We follow Jesus, because in our weakness and our failure, He has called us to be His disciples. And with a rightly ordered heart and mind, we ‘love’ Him, and take our seat at the banquet table.