Wednesday, March 10, 1999

The Unfinished Tower and Unprepared Army

Chapter 7

Luke 14:25-30; 31-33

At this period in Jesus' ministry, he was very popular. Large crowds followed him everywhere. But Jesus was not an ordinary leader or slick politician whose ego swelled with the size of the crowds. He did not mind having many followers as long as they understood the meaning of discipleship. He would not deceive them by failing to mention the sacrifices they would have to make, the suffering they would have to endure, and the shame they would have to face. Consequently, he confronted them with the cost of discipleship.

To do this he told them two cautionary parables. The first was The Parable of the Unfinished Tower. The moral: count the cost before you build, otherwise you may not have the finances necessary to complete the job, and people will point at your uncompleted tower and deride your stupidity. The second parable was The Parable of the Unprepared Army. The moral: a king does not go into war with another without considering whether he has a chance of winning. If he decides that he cannot win, he will sue for peace rather than suffer a devastating defeat.

Jesus wanted his followers to understand the costs of discipleship, and, while not providing a comprehensive list here, he mentions three important considerations. First of all 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 14:27). Jesus does not mean we should hate in the way we ordinarily use the term, i.e., in the sense of despising and detesting. He means "to love less."

Matthew 10:37 expresses this idea this way: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." In other words, we should love our intimate relatives more than our friends but not more than Jesus. Notice that Jesus includes our most intimate relationships--our parents, our wives and children, our brothers and sisters. At first sight these words appear odd, strange, out of character. Is Jesus a megalomaniac? Is God so arbitrary, so insecure, so power-hungry, such an absolutist dictator that he would make such a demand?

God is not opposed to family solidarity or family loyalty. One of his commandments declares that we should honor our fathers and mothers. He was the one who instituted marriage and said that husband and wife should become one flesh. Paul compared the love of husband and wife to the love of God for his church. Jesus makes this statement because discipleship requires unrivalled loyalty. He knows that relationships between parents and children, husband and wife, sisters and brothers are heightened not diminished when we put him first in our lives.

In Hawaii, many Japanese Buddhist parents send their sons and daughters to the Hawaiian Mission Academy because they appreciate the moral and academic standards the Academy has relative to the standards of the public high schools in that state. However, as the students study they also learn about the Seventh-day Adventists who sponsor the Academy. Many of them simply accept the environment and the academic standards but sift out the religion. However, some become serious about the religion and want to become Christians. At this point there is a problem since one of the major emphases among Japanese families is honoring and obeying parents. What should these students do? The Bible also teaches honor and respect to parents. But it also teaches that followers of Christ must love Him more than our parents. Many of these students have had to go against their parents' wishes when they become Christians. But invariably these same parents admit that while their children have not obeyed them in the matter of religion, they have become ideal children in terms of their lifestyle and their relationship with their parents.

Our loved ones do not always understand this, especially when the decision to become a Christian means some tension, some disagreements, some differences, some dividing of the ways. Christ says, he brought a sword rather than peace (Matthew 10:34). While this statement sounds out of character with Christ, incompatible with his spirit and attitude, it is a realistic statement based on human attitudes and behavior. He brings divisions because some people do not understand that if our primary allegiance is to him, our relationships with our families and friends will be enhanced.

Not only must we love Christ more than our families, we must love him more than our own lives (Matthew 10:39). Is that not going too far? No. If we do not act in accordance with Christ's example, we will be unable to achieve our highest potential as created beings. "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it" (Mark 8:35). In living our lives as Christians, we may risk death but are assured of eternal life. Christ said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

The second condition of discipleship is to bear the cross. "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27) Obviously this does not mean simply to wear a cross on a necklace. Those to whom Jesus spoke these words knew only too well what he meant, and they could very well have been startled at the seriousness and gravity of those words. They had seen the victims of crucifixion carrying their own crosses. They were aware of the hideous torture the cross inflicted. Christ warned them that discipleship meant a willingness to be persecuted, reviled, cursed, denounced and even tortured to death.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship,1 Bonhoeffer's first chapter is called "Cheap Grace."

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner 2. . . Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 3

On the other hand, he talks about the costliness of grace.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "Ye were bought at a price", and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. 4

Bonhoeffer himself knew the costliness of grace. Because of his outspoken opposition to the Nazis he was imprisoned and later hanged by the Gestapo on April 9, 1945, just a few days before the liberation of his prison by the Allies.

The third condition is the renunciation of possessions. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 6:33). "So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions" (Luke 14:33). This is not an absolute, universal command. It means that if a disciple has to choose between giving up Christian principles or giving up his or her possessions, the choice must be to give up the possessions. The context of this warning is the story of the rich young ruler who chose wealth rather than discipleship (Luke 18:18-25). He claimed he had kept all the commandments from his youth up, but in reality he had not kept the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me".

Thus Christ calls us to weigh the cost of discipleship. Elsewhere he deals with its surpassing value. But in these parables, he spells out its requirements and possible costs.

1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (rev. and unabridged ed.), Macmillan, 1959.

2. Ibid., p. 48.

3. Ibid., p, 49.

4. Ibid., pp, 47-48.

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