This is actually Luke’s third effort to emphasize Jesus’ conditions and demands of discipleship (see also: Luke 9:23-27, 57-62). In Luke 9:23-27 Jesus spoke about the importance of self-denial for those who wish to follow Him – “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In Luke 9:57-62 Jesus spoke about the importance of avoiding worldly distractions for those who wish to follow Him – “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
In last week’s reflection on Luke 14:1, 7-14 I talked about how Jesus followed up His teaching on why the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind should be invited to the banquet, with a parable to re-emphasize the same. If that teaching was meant to place emphasize on the loving, voluntary, and gratuitousness of God’s election, then today’s Gospel reading, which immediately follows it, is meant to place emphasis on how our response to that call must also come from the wellspring of reciprocal gracious and voluntary love.
Concerning voluntary love, today’s Gospel opens up with a very hard saying! Jesus turns to the great crowd that was following Him and says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” The word ‘hate’ here is being used to emphasize the singular commitment that a follower of Christ must have. This is not one of many paths to many great loves. Rather, this is the path to the one love greater than all.
Jesus then repeats the phrase that we saw earlier in Luke, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” before He starts teaching about how those who wish to follow Him should first engage in an exercise of project cost analysis. The images of construction and war that Jesus decides to employ in His question are still today two of the most calculated and expensive projects that we engage in.
If it is a waste of time and resources to begin building, knowing that there are not enough resources to finish the construction, and if it is foolish to engage in a war, knowing that there are not enough resources to successfully oppose the enemy, then how much more foolish and waste of time is it to attempt to love Jesus no more than we love our possessions? For our Lord says, “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
What Jesus is doing with this teaching here is helping us to properly order our attachments in this world. This is simply a longer redressing of His saying in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” The reason why this teaching on properly ordered attachments is so important is because our emotions and feelings get away from us at times, and it becomes so easy for us to get attached to all the wrong things, for all of the right and wrong reasons. Yet, it is only when Jesus becomes our singular attachment that our life is properly ordered.
Consider the analogy of blood. Blood is healthy when its over 4,000 components are properly ordered. If we have a low number of red blood cells, we become anemic. If our white blood cells become malignant and multiply inside the bone marrow, we develop leukemia. If our blood clots too easily, it is a sign that we might have issue with our blood platelets (plasma). If our blood components are not properly ordered, then our body will not function as it ought either, and daily tasks begin to require more effort. Similarly, when Christ Jesus is not our singular focus of love, attention, and obedience, then daily task begin to require more effort because we are engaging in then without Him – without God’s voluntary, loving, and gratuitous grace. That is, we are not functioning as we were created to.
The call of the today’s Gospel is for to do a little project cost analysis. To do this, first consider what it takes to live a life worthy of Heaven, then subtract from that all the things in your life that require your time, attention, and effort (e.g. property, people, and places), then add back in all those things in your life that you do incorporate Christ Jesus into on a daily basis. Now think about those things that you didn’t add back in. Do you actually need them in your life? Are they distractions? Or can you/should being to incorporate Christ Jesus into them?
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.