Sunday Night Musing: Counting the Cost

Confession: I felt disconnected at church tonight. I don't know if you've ever felt that way, but every once in a while I do. I'm not sure why. It wasn't anyone's fault. It may have been because we weren't at church last week. It may have been because I was a little frustrated with how my son kept butting heads with me throughout the day. It may be that I haven't connected well with others from church recently. It may be that I've been feeling dry with my relationship with God lately. There could be a number of reasons why, but I wasn't feeling that connected.

The text didn't help, either. It's a hard piece of Scripture. Quite hard. During the sermon our pastor acknowledged that it makes you almost want to lay down on the floor under the weight of it all. So be forewarned as you read it:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:25-33, NIV)
Let's acknowledge that the passage contains a lot of difficult phrases:
  • If anyone...does not hate father and mother...even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
  • Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
  • Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 
Now clearly there is some hyperbolic language being used, but it seems like Jesus is trying to turn the crowd away from Him, not invite people to follow Him. Not only are we supposed to "hate" our family, take up a lethal instrument of torture (which is fitting with the hating your own life part), and give up all we have, we're also supposed to calculate if we can follow through with it all. 

If there was an enlistment speech for the Christian faith, this would be the one to avoid.  Even the parables aren't that inviting. How am I supposed to know if I'm going to complete the task of following Jesus? Why would I commit my army to fighting a battle in which we have half the troops? What is this war anyway? Who am I fighting? They're not helpful illustrations.

I've been told to look for the grace in passages. Frankly, it's hard to find. At the end I want Jesus to say, "Okay, so here is how you're supposed to do all this..." or "Now if you want to be my disciple, here's some hope..."

As the passage stands, I can just imagine everyone walking away and Jesus being left standing alone. 

I get that Jesus isn't actually asking us to hate our families or our lives but to make sure they don't get in the way of our love for God--that following Jesus must come first. I get that we aren't to hold tightly to what we own or who we are--that we are to be generous to others and to God. But it still seems quite heavy. 

If actually sit down and figure out the cost, like a farmer building a new structure would do, I would probably come to the conclusion that I'm not able to do it. And there's little chance I would enter into a war with half the fighting power of the other side. Not unless they were a very inexperienced army.

And maybe that's the point. Maybe Jesus is trying to say that we can't do it on our own. Maybe He's wanting us to remember those other things He's said: that things are only possible with God, that human effort cannot bring about salvation. 

I would just really like it if Jesus came out and said that here, though. Something like, "Yep, the cost of following is pretty much impossible. That's why I don't expect you to be able to do it. I expect you to rely upon me for being able to do all this." 

But I think that it's there. I think (and not just because our pastor also thought so) that Jesus is offering grace by saying that we can't do this with our own efforts. I can't at least. 

I think that's the key to my feeling a little disconnected as well. I can't rectify that by my own efforts. I need God to connect with me. I need Him to connect me to others. I need Him to help me get through those trying moments with my kids. In short, I need Him. 

And thankfully He offers Himself freely to me. That's grace. 

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