THE COST OF BEING A DISCIPLE
Jesus has taught valuable lessons while having a meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. As Jesus continues his trip toward Jerusalem, large crowds travel with him. Why? Are they really interested in being his true followers, no matter what that may require of them?
As they travel along the way, Jesus says something to them that may shock some: “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 life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) But what does he mean in saying this?
Jesus is not saying that all who become his followers must literally hate their relatives. Rather, he means that they must hate them in the sense of loving them less than they love Jesus, not being like the man in his illustration of the evening meal who turned down an important invitation because he just got married. (Luke 14:20) The Jews’ ancestor Jacob is said to have “hated” Leah and loved Rachel, meaning that he loved Leah less than her sister Rachel.
Note that Jesus says that a disciple should hate “even his own life,” or soul. This means that a true disciple must love Jesus more than he loves his own life, even being willing to lose his life if necessary. Clearly, becoming a disciple of Christ is a serious responsibility. It is not to be undertaken casually, without careful thought.
Discipleship may involve hardship and persecution, for Jesus says: “Whoever does not carry his torture stake and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) Yes, a true disciple of Jesus must be willing to undergo a burden of reproach such as Jesus faced. Jesus has even said that he will die at the hands of his enemies.
So the crowds traveling with Jesus need to analyze very carefully what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus emphasizes this with an illustration. “For example,” he says, “who of you wanting 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.” (Luke 14:28, 29) Thus, before becoming Jesus’ disciples, those traveling with him toward Jerusalem should have firmly decided to carry out the responsibility fully. He underscores that thought with another illustration:
“What king marching out against another king in war does not first sit down and take counsel whether he is able with 10,000 troops to stand up to the one who comes against him with 20,000? 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.” To emphasize his point, Jesus says: “In the same way, you may be sure that not one of you who does not say good-bye to all his belongings can be my disciple.”
Of course, Jesus is not saying that only for the crowds following him on the road. All who learn of Christ must be willing to do what he is saying here. This means that they need to be ready to sacrifice everything they have
Now Jesus brings up a matter that he touched on in his Sermon on the Mount when he said that his disciples are “the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) He likely meant that even as literal salt is a preservative, his disciples have a preserving effect on people, protecting them from spiritual and moral decay. Now, as his ministry draws to a close, he says: “Salt, to be sure, is fine. But if the salt loses its strength, with what will it be seasoned?” (Luke 14:34) His listeners know that some salt available then was impure, mixed with earthy matter and thus of little use.
So Jesus is showing that even those who have long been his disciples must not let their determination grow weak. If that were to happen, they would become useless, like salt that has lost its strength. The world might then ridicule them. More than that, they would be unfit before God, even bringing reproach upon his name. Jesus stresses the importance of avoiding that outcome, saying: “Let the one who has ears to listen, listen.”