“Great crowds were traveling with [Jesus], and He turned and addressed them …” (Luke 14:25)
In the name …
Do you remember in the Forrest Gump movie when he was running across the country?He started picking up these stragglers who followed after him.They weren’t quite sure why they were following him, but they hoped Forrest Gump had some answers to their questions. He looked the part of the prophet, and he had quietly helped some people find solutions to their problems along the way. The more he ran, the more attention he got, and the more people there were who attached themselves to him.Then one day out in the middle of nowhere, suddenly, Forrest Gump just stopped running.He turned around and went home.
Now think about today’s Gospel selection.I don’t want to compare Jesus to Forrest Gump, but it might be helpful if we compare the reaction of those people running behind Forrest Gump to the crowd of people following behind Jesus.Last week we heard of the 72 disciples sent out by Jesus ahead of Him to prepare the towns and villages that He would come to visit.This gives us a hint of a larger group of disciples beyond the tradition 12.We don’t know very much about these people, but as with any group there must have been some who were extremely dedicated, some who were interested, and some who were just tagging along.And this is where the picture of Forrest Gump out in the middle of nowhere can be helpful.Jesus, like Forrest Gump, was drawing unwanted attention, and this in turn was drawing more and more casual followers.When Forrest Gump stops and turns around to head for home, all those people following behind him were stunned.They didn’t know what to do.They thought Forrest Gump was something that he never was and never claimed to be.And when he stopped running, that reality hit them like a ton of bricks.
That kind of reaction may be something like what happened to those people following behind Jesus when He tells them in no uncertain terms what being a disciple really means.Jesus speaks with an uncharacteristic bluntness this morning.I hope it’s all right to say this, but I have trouble defending what He says today, or more appropriately, the way in which He says it.He uses the word “hate” as a matter of fact.When Matthew tells this same story, he chooses to mellow the words Jesus speaks.Matthew’s Jesus says to those following behind that if they do not love Him more than father, mother or children then they cannot be a disciple.But Luke keeps the word hate, and it just sounds so strange coming off the lips of Jesus, and to tell you the truth I don’t know how to defend that word “hate.”But that’s probably the reason it’s there.It makes a dramatic impact.It reaches through all of the illusions, imaginations and dreams of those who are tagging along behind Jesus, and it gives Him the chance to isntead tell these people about the real commitment and real sacrifice needed to be a real follower.
You see, Luke approaches his Gospel like none of the other Evangelists.He tells the story of Jesus while at the same time anticipating the story of the church.He writes his Gospel and he also writes the Acts of the Apostles, which is the story of the earliest church.Now because Luke is personally aware of the hardships that those first Christians had to endure, he makes sure that those who follow Christ know what they are getting into.He doesn’t mince words about the fact that those who believe in Jesus must sacrifice everything for their faith.That’s why his Jesus says harsh sounding things to His followers like:“‘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.’” (14:26)That sounds extreme to our ears, and it would have sounded extreme to those who heard Jesus say it 2,000 years ago.And if there were cameras around back then, I’ll bet their looks of bewilderment and words of confusion would have been not unlike that of those people following behind Forrest Gump.
When Jesus stops on His journey toward Jerusalem, and we all know what’s going to happen there, when He turns around to look at this loose group of followers behind Him, and He says what He says, well that language is going to knock the casualness out of discipleship. Jesus is making absolutely sure that those people are prepared for what following Him means.This is what motivates His next words.Which of you, asks Jesus, would start a building project not knowing the full costs?How foolish you would look if you had to stop your project half way through the job.Which king, asks Jesus, will go to war against an enemy without knowing if he has a chance to prevail, for if he is defeated all is lost?Jesus’ uncustomary language is forcing His followers to ask if they’re really prepared for discipleship.
Those same expectations of Jesus apply to us today as well.We still are the followers of Christ. We still are the ones from whom Jesus demands commitment.I don’t know how to defend the idea of “hate” that Luke’s Jesus uses so severely today, but I can appreciate His insistence that Christ be a priority in our lives, that Jesus be at least as important to us, if not more so, than all of our loved ones and all of our possessions.Jesus and our faith in Jesus cannot be casual after-thoughts.To follow Jesus means to count Christ as a priority.And for far too many people Christianity has become anything but a priority in our modern lives.So maybe just like Jesus saw the need to shock His followers 2,000 years ago, maybe Christians need to have the casualness of discipleship knocked out of our understanding of the faith too.Maybe we need to be powerfully reminded that to follow Jesus may demand sacrifice and it will demand commitment.The church pairs this Gospel with the Old Testament reading in which it is said:“It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” (Dt. 30:14)Our faith and what it expects is already a part of us, let us pray that we choose to “carry it out” when it comes to fulfilling our commitment of discipleship, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.(+)