Counting the Cost Luke 14:25-33

A sermon at the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Kingston, Ontario, September 9, 2001

by Robert Brow       (

What do we make of Jesus' statement "Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26)? Obviously we cannot take this literally. Jesus did not hate his own mother. He said we were to love our neighbor as ourself, and surely that does not exclude love for one's close family. It was Jesus who said "but I say to you, love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). So these words about hating our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters must an example of Jesus' extreme metaphorical and paradoxical remarks. "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Matthew 5:29-30). And concerning money he said "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).

This paradoxical statement is about disciples. On the one hand all are invited to come and be disciples, to begin learning from Jesus. "Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me" (Matthew 11:28). There are no conditions for enrolling to begin in this school. But as time goes on some disciples become teachers, and as every teacher will tell you that can be very costly. And some are invited to be Jesus' apostles. Things will obviously be very different when Peter and Andrew, James and John, each leave home and go out with Jesus on preaching tours. From the point of view of Peter's father and mother and wife and other members of the family it looks as if he hates them and prefers going with Jesus. A similar situation is faced by anyone who goes out into missionary service (read Luke 14:26). As Jesus said, onlookers easily conclude that missionaries hate "even life itself".

That is why Jesus also said "none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions" (read Luke 14:33). It is hard to engage in a war if our first concern is the home and property we have left behind. But again we should not go to extremes. Dr. Luke (the author of this Gospel) was a doctor - he needed his instruments and medicines. As fishermen Peter and Andrew did not get rid of their boat. Paul asked Timothy to bring his cloak and his books (2 Timothy 4:13). But certainly in serving the Lord we will find ourselves giving up some of our most treasured possessions. Going out on a mission with Jesus may mean giving up one's car, and stereo, and membership in the golf club.

Secondly Jesus warns us to count the cost of the cross that will be involved. In the Roman world crucifixions were a familiar sight, and people talked about taking up your cross. Once you were nailed to a cross, there was no way to turn back. This applies to those who volunteer for military service in a war. A woman had better count the cost before agreeing to have a baby. Once she is nailed to the cross of childbearing, there will be the discomfort of nine months of pregnancy, then of many sleepless nights, the loss of freedom as she has to mind her child day after day. It is easy enough for students at Queen's University to enrol in the mountain climbing club, and learn to use ropes on an easy rock face. But if they intend to go on and climb Mount Everest, the cost will be tremendous. The cost must be carefully estimated, as in house building (read 14:28-30). Similarly before engaging in a war, better be realistic about winning it (read 14:31-32).

Thirdly we ask how this might apply to us? As disciples of Jesus we are all called to love others. And when we love we inevitably get hurt. Parents are hurt by their children, children are hurt by their family, husbands and wives very easily hurt each other, and we will get hurt very badly in any church congregation. You could say the more you love, the more you are likely to get hurt. When the Son of God came to love us, he was hurt more than anyone and ended up crucified. That is why the cross is at the heart of God's kind of loving.

But the amazing fact is that God leaves us free to invest our loving in any way we choose. In India we knew some missionaries who invested their loving in caring for lepers. Others choose to love the children they are going to teach in school. And that is getting more and more like cross bearing. You can just take your pay and do the minimum to keep the kids from killing each other, but quality teaching is very costly. Similarly there are many kinds of costly loving that are needed in our city, in business, in our country, and in our world. As Christians we learn to love our brothers and sisters in this congregation, and that can often be very hard. For some the main concern is to love parents and neighbors. We are given a side choice of ways and places to love, but whatever kind of loving we commit ourselves to engage in will be always be costly. But no one who ever took up the cross ever regretted it. As Paul said, "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).

Now let's go back and carefully reread our Gospel passage (read Luke 14:25-33). For each of you the cost and the cross of loving will be different. As you love, ask yourself how Jesus' words apply in your situation.

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