The Responsibility of Discipleship
AFTER leaving the house of the prominent Pharisee, who apparently is a member of the Sanhedrin, Jesus continues on toward Jerusalem. Great crowds follow him. But what are their motives? What is really involved in being his true follower?
As they travel along, Jesus turns to the crowds and perhaps shocks them when he says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple.”
What does Jesus mean? Jesus is not here saying that his followers should literally hate their relatives. Rather, they must hate them in the sense of loving them less than they love him. Jesus’ forefather Jacob is said to have “hated” Leah and loved Rachel, which meant that Leah was loved less than her sister Rachel.
Consider, too, that Jesus said a disciple should hate “even his own soul,” or life. Again what Jesus means is that a true disciple must love Him even more than he loves his own life. Jesus is thus emphasizing that becoming his disciple is a serious responsibility. It is not something to be undertaken without careful consideration.
Hardship and persecution are involved in being Jesus’ disciple, as he goes on to indicate: “Whoever is not carrying his torture stake and coming after me cannot be my disciple.” Thus, a true disciple must be willing to undergo the same burden of reproach that Jesus endured, even including, if necessary, dying at the hands of God’s enemies, which Jesus is soon to do.
Being a disciple of Christ, therefore, is a matter that the crowds following him need to analyze very carefully. Jesus emphasizes this fact by means of an illustration. “For example,” he says, “who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, he might lay its foundation but not be able to finish it, and all the onlookers might start to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man started to build but was not able to finish.’”
So Jesus is illustrating to the crowds who are following him that before becoming his disciples, they should be firmly decided that they can fulfill what is involved, even as a man who wants to build a tower makes sure before he begins that he has the resources to complete it. Providing another illustration, Jesus continues:
“Or what king, marching to meet another king in war, does not first sit down and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand troops to cope with the one that comes against him with twenty thousand? If, in fact, he cannot do so, then while that one is yet far away he sends out a body of ambassadors and sues for peace.”
Jesus then emphasizes the point of his illustrations, saying: “Thus, you may be sure, none of you that does not say good-bye to all his belongings can be my disciple.” That is what the crowds following him, and, yes, everyone else who learns of Christ, must be willing to do. They must be ready to sacrifice everything that they have—all their belongings, including life itself—if they would be his disciples. Are you willing to do this?
“Salt, to be sure, is fine,” Jesus continues. In his Sermon on the Mount, he said that his disciples are “the salt of the earth,” meaning that they have a preserving influence on people, even as literal salt is a preservative. “But if even the salt loses its strength, with what will it be seasoned? It is suitable neither for soil nor for manure,” Jesus concludes. “People throw it outside. Let him that has ears to listen, listen.”
So Jesus shows that even those who have been his disciples for some time must not weaken in their determination to continue. If they do, they will become useless, an object of ridicule to this world and unfit before God, in fact, a reproach upon God. Hence, like strengthless, contaminated salt, they will be thrown outside, yes, destroyed. Luke 14:25-35; Genesis 29:30-33; Matthew 5:13.
▪ What does it mean to “hate” one’s relatives and oneself?
▪ What two illustrations does Jesus give, and what do they mean?
▪ What is the point of Jesus’ concluding comments about salt?