Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. ‘Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
This is one of those passages that can do nothing but challenge us.
In a few places in the Gospels we are told about the large crowds that followed Jesus and gathered around him as he taught. Here is one of those moments. Jesus didn’t want a bunch of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ admirers to be his disciples. True discipleship demanded more than just an eager following, and so Jesus lays it on thick, perhaps a little too thick for some. As one person has written, rather than a message to comfort the disturbed, these challenging words of Jesus are more likely to disturb the comfortable.
In many of our churches we don’t have the same luxury that Jesus had – that of having the opportunity to challenge large crowds of would-be followers to understand the true cost of discipleship. And even if we did, we’re hardly likely to get very far by telling our spiritual seekers to turn their backs on their families and give up all their possessions! If we said it at all it would be saved until the later sessions of the Discipleship Development course which we hope will bring people closer to Christ.
So that is why we must allow this passage, and others like it that contain those hard sayings of Jesus, the things that perhaps we wish he’d never said, to challenge and disturb us. What then should we do? In some senses only we can answer that. If we have ears to listen, we can examine ourselves, our motives, our priorities, the things that distract us. We can ask where our commitment really lies. As disciples of Jesus do we still offer to the world the distinctive savour, the healing presence, the ice-melting properties of salt? Do our lives of discipleship make a difference?
God, you call us to be your disciples which is both privilege, challenge and choice.
Set us along the right paths we pray, that we might be given guidance to discover your way, courage to step out in faith and strength to persevere.
For the sake of Christ our Lord, Amen
The Rev’d David Salsbury is a member of Horeb URC, Dyserth and Programme Manager for Stepwise.