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Luke 14:25-33 Biblical Commentary:
LUKE 14. THE CONTEXT
Jesus healed a man with dropsy, leading to a Sabbath controversy (14:1-6). He responded to people seeking good seats by advising them to seek the lowest seat and to invite the least desirable guests (14:7-14). When a dinner guest said, “Blessed is he who will feast in the Kingdom of God”, Jesus responded with the parable of the great dinner, suggesting that the chosen people had declined the invitation because of other priorities and that Gentiles would take their place (14:15-24). This week’s Gospel lesson follows naturally from that parable, in which the chosen people were not willing to give the master the priority that he deserved.
LUKE 14:25-33. COSTLY DISCIPLESHIP
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and a cross, but the crowd thinks that he is on his way to Jerusalem and a crown. They consider Jesus a “winner,” and follow him so that they too might win. Jesus teaches them that discipleship carries a high price tag. Those who aspire to follow him need to count the cost before signing on the dotted line.
Jesus demands commitment, an unpopular word these days. We are tempted, in the interest of filling pews, to promise a Lexus in every garage and a Rolex on every wrist. We are tempted not to challenge people to faithful stewardship—and faithful worship attendance—and faithful sexuality—and honest business practices—and accurate tax returns—and compassion for the less fortunate—and other costly commitments. We hope that, perhaps if we don’t ask too much, visitors will return. The irony is that churches with high standards attract people with high standards. Their integrity and commitment draw others. Soon their pews are full.
Jesus does not make discipleship easy. He does not offer an easy payment plan. He never tries to disguise the cost of discipleship. Instead, he writes the price tag large for all to see.
But Jesus doesn’t require anything of his disciples that he himself is not willing to give. Luke told us earlier that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51)—to the place where he will die on a cross. He is currently on the road to Jerusalem, knowing what awaits him there.
LUKE 14:25-27. WHOEVER DOESN’T BEAR HIS OWN CROSS
25Now great multitudes were going with him. He turned and said to them, 26“If anyone comes to me, and doesn’t disregard (Greek: mesei—hate, disregard, be indifferent to) his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can’t be my disciple. 27Whoever doesn’t bear his own cross, and come after me, can’t be my disciple.“
“Now great multitudes were going with him” (v. 25a). This verse signals a transition. Jesus has been at a dinner in the home of a Pharisee, and his remarks were addressed to the small group gathered for that occasion. Now he is addressing large crowds. The fact that they are traveling with him demonstrates their infectious enthusiasm. His message to them is the same as to the earlier dinner group. God demands first place in our lives, and that kind of discipleship is costly.
“If anyone comes to me, and doesn’t disregard (mesei—hate, disregard, be indifferent to) his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can’t be my disciple” (v. 26). This is a difficult verse to hear, because it sounds anti-family. In recent decades, we have seen the decline of the traditional family, a decline brought on in large measure because of our discomfort with commitment. We are beginning to recognize the consequences of that decline, and do not want Jesus to make it worse. Furthermore, Jesus’ words sound disrespectful to parents, which also conflicts with our values.
This, however, is Semitic hyperbole or exaggeration-for-effect. Jesus is not calling us to hate father and mother, but is instead calling us to a commitment above all other commitments, including commitment to family. “Hate” in this context is not a call to develop an intense dislike for family members, but is rather a call to love them less than Christ. This is a common Old Testament idea (see Proverbs 13:24; 2 Samuel 19:6; Genesis 29:30-33; Malachi 1:2-3; Deuteronomy 21:15-17—see also Luke 16:13).
Jesus is doing with this crowd what he did earlier with a wannabe disciple. To that man he said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (9:58). To another who wanted first to bury his father Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (9:60). To one who wanted to say goodbye to his family, Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God”(9:62).
Jesus promises that our commitment will be rewarded. “Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or wife, or brothers, or parents, or children, for the Kingdom of God’s sake, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the world to come, eternal life” (18:29-30)—but that comment comes later. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus issues only demands—not promises.
Jesus experienced in his own life the conflict between calling and family. When told that his mother and brothers wanted to see him, he responded, “My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God, and do it” (8:21).
“Whoever doesn’t bear his own cross, and come after me, can’t be my disciple” (v. 27). In verse 26, Jesus called us to hate even our own life. Now he calls us to carry our cross, the instrument of our death.
Luke is writing to Christians who know what cross-bearing means. Persecution has begun, and Christians are dying on crosses. For the person desiring casual discipleship, Jesus’ words about cross-bearing would be discouraging—but for Luke’s church, experiencing persecution, these words would ratify their sacrifices.
This verse raises a question in a day when Islamic zealots strap bombs to their bodies and detonate them in busy marketplaces. They do so gladly in the belief that God will reward their martyrdom—but, in the process, they give religious enthusiasm a bad name. What is the difference between Christian cross-bearing and Islamic zealotry? The difference is that Christ calls us to love each other—to love even our enemies. Love, not bombs, is the Christian change-agent.
• Christian saints do not detonate bombs on busy street-corners. Instead, they give up promising careers to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim God’s love.
• Christians sacrifice self, not others.
• Christians sacrifice in behalf of people who do not share their beliefs and with whom they have little in common—except that they are created by the same Father.
LUKE 14:28-30. FOR WHICH OF YOU, DESIRING TO BUILD A TOWER
28“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and count the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? 29Or perhaps, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, everyone who sees begins to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build, and wasn’t able to finish.'”
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and count the cost” (v. 28). When we renovated our house, we were advised to add ten to twenty percent to the estimate, because you never know what you will encounter once you open up the walls. We spent that much and more in the months that followed. It was difficult, but we were able to complete the work. Another family started an addition at the same time, and their house sat idle for long periods of time as they tried to find money to finish it. We can imagine their frustration.
This is a good metaphor for Christian discipleship. When we first decide to follow Christ, we know only that there will be a price to pay. Only as life unfolds can we begin to assess the full cost. Jesus warns at the outset that the price will be high.
LUKE 14:31-32. OR WHAT KING, AS HE GOES TO WAR
31“Or what king, as he goes to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an envoy, and asks for conditions of peace.”
This parable makes the same point as verses 28-30. Don’t start until you have counted the cost and assessed the likelihood of success. Plan carefully to avoid disappointment. Prepare now lest you meet with disaster.
LUKE 14:33. WHOEVER DOESN’T RENOUNCE ALL THAT HE HAS
33“So therefore whoever of you who doesn’t renounce all that he has, he can’t be my disciple.”
In this Gospel, Jesus speaks often of material possessions. He exposed the folly of the rich man whose only concern is the enjoyment of wealth (12:13-21). He told his disciples not to worry about food and clothing, because “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old” (12:22-34). He will require that the rich young ruler sell his possessions and give them to the poor (18:18-25). Zacchaeus’ will demonstrate his repentance by his commitment to redeem any prior dishonesty by repaying four times the amount (19:8). Jesus warns that we “aren’t able to serve God and mammon” (16:13).
Luke also wrote the book of Acts, in which he recounted, “All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need” (2:44-45; see also 4:32).
Becoming a Christian requires repentance, a word that in the Greek means more than sorrow for sin—the picture being that of a soldier doing an about-face—turning to face a new direction. Jesus makes it clear that becoming a Christian means a turning toward God and a turning away from concern for possessions.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
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Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
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Gilmour, S. MacLean & Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Hoezee, Scott, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Hoyer, George W. and Roth, Wolfgang, Proclamation, Pentecost 2, Series C
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Juel, Donald H. and Buttrick, David, Proclamation 2, Pentecost 2, Series C
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Nolland, John, Word : Luke 9:21—18:34, Vol. 35B (Dallas: Word Books, 1993)
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Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
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