Have you ever been caught out by an unexpected cost? Have you ever bought a cheap printer for your computer only to find that when the ink runs out the replacement costs more than the price you paid for the printer? Or have you ever bought something cheap off the internet only to find it breaks down the first time you use it because it’s a cheap knock-off from overseas?
Sometimes the cost of things is not very transparent and we get caught out paying more for something than we had intended. Some couples get caught out taking out a mortgage for their home. They don’t take into account a rise in interest rates – a job loss – a pregnancy – an unexpected bill or something else that puts financial strain on their repayments.
It is that unexpected cost that can sometimes catch us out. Jesus talks today about the cost of discipleship. We know the upfront costs of being a Christian. There’s the Sunday worship that may cost us our sleep in. There’s the weekly offering which over the course of the year can add up to a fair cost. There’s the cost of our free time if we’re asked to serve on a committee. We know about those costs.
It’s the unexpected costs that can sometimes weigh heavily upon us. There is the cost of loving our enemies. The way of the world is to hate your enemies. Strike them before they strike you. But Jesus says the cost of discipleship is to turn the other cheek and forgive them. Sometimes, as Christians we forego the cost of justice.
The cost of discipleship is to rejoice in our sufferings, as Paul says: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3-5).
That’s opposite to the attitude of the world – if there is a loving God why does he let people suffer. The cost of discipleship is to see weakness as strength, while the way of the world is survival of the strong. The cost of discipleship is to keep following Jesus even when the road ahead looks tough and the alternative looks much more enticing – such as Peter when he rebuked Jesus for suggesting he had to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.
The way of the world is to follow better paths – our career paths – our leisure paths where church impedes on our weekends. It’s the only day I get to sleep in.
The cost of discipleship is struggling at times with our faith – persisting in a congregation where numbers are falling – where there are no children the age of my children; not leaving the congregation because you may find one that is better for you. The way of the world is to seek a church that is successful, fun and entertaining. The cost of discipleship is standing up for your traditional beliefs while the world calls you a dinosaur – a relic of the past – an irrelevant part of society.
When Jesus says: “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 (Luke 14:26) he was not commanding us to hate but pointing out what the cost of following Jesus may in fact entail.
In Jesus’ time to follow him may have meant a separation from family to follow this radical teacher as the disciples did when they left family and careers. Jesus is pointing out that we each have a point at which we are going to question our faith – whether it’s family, career, financial, health or whatever;
At some point we may reach that fork in the road that clearly forces us to make a decision to follow Jesus or to give up and take the other path. Jesus had met that at various points in his ministry. Such as, when Peter wanted to take a different road when Jesus spoke about going to Jerusalem to be arrested and put to death (Matthew 16:22). He had put himself ahead of Jesus instead of behind him as a disciple – “get behind me Satan” (Matthew 16:23).
There were the group of disciples who found Jesus teaching too difficult and returned home. Jesus asked Peter if he too wanted to go – to which Peter says: Lord to whom shall we go – you have the words of eternal life. There were those who wanted to go and say goodbye to their family or go and bury their family member.
There is a point in each of us where to follow Jesus will be a real cost – financially, socially or some other way. Our faith is sometimes a real cross we have to carry. And it can get heavy at times, and like Jesus it can get lonely walking the way of cross. The church is struggling in these days and people leave for all sorts of reasons. Jesus is challenging us to discover what it is that challenges our faith and to be prepared for it.
Satan is cunning and knows where our weaknesses are. He knew where Adam and Eve’s weakness was. And even though Jesus had no weakness Satan still tempted him to abandon God. He knew Judas’s weakness. Satan knew Peter’s weakness and as the chief apostle worked hard to destroy his faith:
Jesus warned him and the disciples: “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31) Peter did turn back and he warns us now: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8).
Being a Christian is not always going to be easy. There will be challenges – there will be temptations – there will be times that we are hurt directly related to our faith. But, like Peter, we need to consider the alternative very carefully and remember: Lord to whom shall we go – you have the words of eternal life.
All organisations experience difficulties – sporting clubs, special interests clubs, social clubs, work places. The difference is that these clubs and organisations can be replaced with other clubs of similar style.
But as a disciple of Jesus, only Jesus has the words of eternal life. We have to be prepared that there will be times when we face struggles, challenges and even hurts. But God has given us the gift of forgiveness so we do not go the way of the world. He has given us the gift of faith so we can continue to trust God when everything else is point away from him.
He has given us our Baptism and Holy Communion so that when we feel like we are all alone we remember Jesus’ promise – I am with you always – here is my body and blood given for you. It is a very difficult passage to read when we see the word “hate” used – especially in reference to our family and loved ones.
It’s not that Jesus is actively telling us to hate but rather drawing a line in the sand. If anything stands between our faith in God we MUST stand that aside – even to the extent of what we love most dearly.
Jesus himself had to face that very conflict: Mark’s Gospel says that his family went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21) And when they came to visit him – they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” He replied “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
So it’s not about hate at all. It’s about our first love which Jesus himself says is to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and from that love of God will flow an even deeper love for father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and everyone.
If our love starts with human love then it will always be flawed. But when our love starts with love of God then our love is supported by the unconditional love of God that allows us to forgive and reconcile and even love the unlovable.
That’s what Jesus is speaking about including the heavy cross we carry at times when that love causes us to love where worldly love ends or refuses to go – loving the enemy and loving the unlovable. Imagine if you can love your enemy and the unlovable how much greater will your love be for your loved ones, your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister and all people.