Luke 14:25-33 CEB
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.
Hate is a strong word, and yet Jesus uses it in the first scripture of our new sermon series “Having Words with Jesus,” where we find ourselves wrestling with these difficult words from Christ. Our temptation is to soften the blow of this word hate, as we are people who live our lives around love, whether that’s loving God or loving neighbor, so how can the Christ who tells us to love also tell us to hate? In trying to understand how hate fits into following God, we must turn to the other two stories Jesus tells this morning, one about an architect building a tower and another about a king waging war. Both must count the cost of their endeavor, just as Christ invites us to count the cost of following him. It is not something we should do lightly, as it will take everything from us, and at the same time it will give us back more than we could ever imagine, but first, we must count the cost of discipleship.
Our first impulse with today’s scripture might be to soften this word hate, as surely Jesus would never tell us to do this. Some translations will soften the blow of this passage we hear in Luke. The Good News Translation says, “‘Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, [etc.]’” While the Message Bible, by Eugene Peterson, says “‘Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse [etc.]’” While these are fair attempts, they cannot overcome the Greek word used in this passage, miseō, which translates as hate or detest. No substitutions, no softening of this word. The same Jesus who tells us to love our enemies and love our neighbors calls on us to hate our “‘father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life’” in order to be God’s disciple. Why? It would be one thing if Jesus asked us to hate the things we already dislike, such as broccoli or pineapple on pizza. Do not get me wrong, the human race has proved time and time again that we are good at hating, just not usually those on this list. We get angry at each other, sure, but hate is a rare thing here. How can God expect us to hate our own family, our own flesh and blood, and even our own selves? Jesus puts a price tag on following him that seems too high to pay.
What are our options then? Could we simply choose to ignore this passage? I mean, sure, Jesus won’t mind if we soften or skip it entirely. We certainly love to do the same to another passage in this very scripture, namely where it says, “‘In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.’” We all start squirming when these things pop up, and we’ll even start saying things like Jesus meant our spiritual poverty, and cannot possibly mean us actually selling all that we own. I mean can’t Jesus just be satisfied with what I can give? I mean he is one of my favorite things. I try to give him as much time as I can. I am trying, you are trying, isn’t that enough for God? I mean let’s face it, we cannot possibly hate our family, our spouse, and ourselves.
Except, maybe that’s the point. This is the shock to the system we need. How often do we really consider the cost of following Jesus? The rest of the passage is about this very thing. What builder starts building before being sure he has the materials and the money to complete the job? What king does not consider the strength of his forces before going to war? What person does not consider the cost before following Jesus? Let me give you an example, in twenty-three countries in our world today apostasy is illegal and punishable by death. People in places like Saudi Arabia and Syria and Jordan renouncing their faith to convert to another altogether face rejection by their own families, ostracization by their communities, and death at the hands of their state. The cost of following Christ there is high, both today and in Jesus’ day. Tell me, how do you think Peter’s wife reacted when her husband came home and told her that he promised this itinerant rabbi that he was going to give up everything to follow him? Did she think he hated her? What about Zebedee when his sons, James and John, abandoned him in his boat with his laborers to follow Christ? Did he think they hated him, the sea, and fishing? To follow Christ, here or there, then or now, comes with a cost. It may well put us at odds with those closest to us. Are we willing to pay that bill?
You have to give it to Jesus, he does not soften the blow, with the crowd or with us. He turns to the crowd that is following him and asks them if they are willing to give everything, lose everything to build what is coming, and fight the good fight that’s ahead. Jesus does not sugar coat. Following Christ comes with suffering. We have to suffer the loss of the titles we thought mattered: father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife, reverend, doctor, and so on. We have to suffer the loss of understanding of those closest to us. We suffer because following Christ means that we give up what we hate and what we love. We suffer as we give up greed and pride, gifts and talents, and even the things that give us joy. All of them are given over to Christ.
Why would we do this? How could we possibly detest all these things that are ours? Except, they were never ours alone, not even our own selves. To cling to these things and to try to love them and hold them with only our own strength is like a tower half-built and a battle half-fought. To hold onto them is to hold onto who we are without Christ, and we must give them up to be transformed, to be made whole. Look at who we are giving everything over to, our Redeemer, the Prince of Peace, and the Lord of Love. Give up everything, yes, because otherwise, you will lose them. We cannot love or cherish or protect or fix any of these relationships and people and things on our own. Our love and strength are feeble and weak. They are broken and selfish and temporary. Sometimes we even go so far as to hate that which we love, but our God is different. Our God will never hate that which is given into Christ’s care. Instead, in giving everything over to Christ, we gain Christ: loving like Christ, seeing through his eyes, and serving as he would. In Christ, we lose nothing, but rather in giving up everything to be transformed and finished through him, including ourselves, we truly gain everything that truly matters. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman