- Got Flamingos?
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 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? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
ometimes our minds make funny associations. When I read today’s story, the association I make is with a little kid begging their parents for a puppy. “If you get a puppy, you’ll have to feed it, take it on walks, train it, and play with it. Puppies are lots of work!” Yes, yes, the child insists, they will do all of that and more! They will raise and care for the puppy, their parents will never have to do a thing!
Of course, we all know the truth. It will be the parents who take the puppy out at two in the morning in the rain while the puppy is being house broken. It will be the parents who clean up the accidents and messes. It will be the parents who walk the dog as the child grows up and finds his or her schedule filled with school, activities, and friends. We know that they cannot possibly fulfill the commitments that they are making, but for now the child insists that they will do whatever it takes to have a puppy. How could they know any better? After all, they are but a child.
As Jesus moved through the countryside, stopping to teach and heal along the way, he was attracting attention. People began to follow him along the way. Now a huge crowd swarmed around him. Everywhere he looked were people who would be his disciples. But raising a puppy pales in comparison to what it takes to be a disciple.
“You want to be my disciple, but do you have any idea what that will take?” Jesus asks the crowds. Indeed, it will take a lot. “If you would be my disciples,” Jesus warns, “then you must turn your back on father and mother, spouse and child, brother and sister!” Though it seems impossible, this is even worse than it sounds to our modern ear. In the first century, forsaking family meant more than breaking ties with those you love. Family was the source of identity, the source of security, the source of care when you were sick or old. Without family, you had no legacy. You had no place in the world. Without family, you were little more than a resident alien—a stranger who does not belong.
In our world, it would be like saying goodbye to family and friends, throwing your career out the window, deleting your email and social media accounts, liquidating your retirement savings and giving the money away, tearing up your health insurance cards, your social security, and all other forms of identity, and then moving to a new state and a new community where no one knows you, no one trusts you, and no one wants you around.
As if to make sure that he had left nothing to the imagination, Jesus added, “You cannot follow me if you do not first take up the cross. You cannot be my disciple if you do not first give up all your possessions.” Jesus’ message is clear. The cost of discipleship is real. The cost of discipleship is high. To become a disciple of Christ, we must sacrifice everything about ourselves, everything we have come to trust and depend on, so that we might come to trust and depend on God instead.
Jesus clearly never heard of marketing.
The trouble is that we don’t like to make sacrifices in our culture. We live in a world of instant gratification, a world where we can have it all at the push of a button, a world where we are never asked to give up anything. The thought of making such a sacrifice as Jesus demands causes us to vacillate between indignation and fear. We tend to act like we live in a world without sacrifice, but truth is that we do make sacrifices. In fact, there are some sacrifices that we even celebrate. We honor the sacrifices that firemen and police officers make to keep our homes and communities safe. We honor and celebrate the sacrifices that women and men of our armed forces make to serve our community. And we admire the sacrifices our young people make when they join the Peace Corps in order to make our world a better place.
Indeed, in our own lives we make sacrifices all the time. We make sacrifices to get an education. We make sacrifices for our jobs and careers. We make tremendous sacrifices to raise and care for children; to teach them to be good and upright people, to educate them, and to prepare them for life in our world. We make personal sacrifices so that our relationships may strengthen and grow. We even make sacrifices when we vow to remain true to each other in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad times, until we are parted only by death.
My friends, though we shy away from the idea of making the sacrifice that Jesus calls for, the truth is that we make all manner of sacrifices in our lives with little hesitation. In fact, we do it happily because we know that the sacrifice is well worth the result.
After all, the sacrifices we make to raise a puppy leads to a devoted and loving companion. The sacrifices we make for our jobs lead to a career that is hopefully enjoyable and fulfilling. The sacrifices we make for our children lead to grown human beings who are able to lead happy and meaningful lives.
It is not different with God. The sacrifice we are called to make in our discipleship leads to something far greater and worthwhile. For just as we give of ourselves so that our children might grow, and just as we give our love so that love might grow and abound in our relationships, so too does Jesus ask us to give everything so that we might receive everything. In Christ, when we sacrifice our identity, then we take on the mantle and become known as disciples. When we sacrifice our wealth, our security, and all that we hold dear, then we receive the Kingdom of God. And when we offer all of ourselves, devoting even our lives to God, only then do we find that life abounds beyond our wildest understanding.
My friends, as we too join the throngs that gather around Jesus, let us not be afraid to make the sacrifice that discipleship entails. Let us support one another on this journey of faith together, until that day that we find our lives open and grow into eternity itself.