No Discounts on Discipleship
See – Luke 14:25-33
Hate your mother and father? No way… Jesus can’t be serious. But he is. This is one of those Bible passages that gives fits to folks who base their faith on a literal reading of scripture. But what if the word “hate” doesn’t mean what you think it does? What if Jesus means we should love God above all else, not that we should detest our parents? If “hate” really means “love less,” it doesn’t help the ultra-literal very much. In fact, it raises a bigger problem. If words are pliable. If they don’t mean what you think they do. If meanings can be modified in translation… what else in the Bible is not entirely literal?
For openers, the accounts of Creation are clearly metaphorical as evidenced by overwhelming scientific evidence. The punishments prescribed in Leviticus are way over the top, to say the least. Presently there are over five million different species of life on earth. Did Noah really have the time and the space to pack them all onto the ark? Resolving these anomalies is not a modern phenomenon. 17th Century Anglican Saint, Jeremy Taylor tells us: “He that speaks against his own reason, speaks against his own conscience; and therefore, it is certain that no man serves God with a good conscience who serves against his reason.”
In that context, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that Jesus is dramatizing a point and the word “hate” really does not literally mean hate, but the more conditional “love less.” Loving God with our whole heart is the core of the Great Commandment. When Jesus tells us that we must love him more than our family, even more than life itself, he is asserting his divinity. And he’s telling us as clearly and as us bluntly as possible, just what it will cost to be his disciple.
In staking out this ground, Christ reveals a core concept of our salvation: Yes, in Baptism we are saved by the grace of God. Yes, it is a gift to us bought by the blood of Christ alone. We don’t buy it. We don’t earn it. Jesus paid the price. His grace is free. But it does come with a condition. We must be faithful to that gift of grace. We are not spectators in our salvation… we are participants. Jesus tells us we must take up our cross and follow him. That’s not a suggestion or a helpful hint. It is the command of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, and Savior. There are no discounts on discipleship.
We believe that we are saved by faith alone (sola fide.) But that faith is not a trinket. It is not a gold cross we can choose to wear or choose to pack away in the bottom drawer of our soul. Our faith is the cross of discipleship… the cross we carry every day in active imitation of Christ. In this gospel, Jesus is telling us that our faith must come first… before all other attachments… before all other obligations. Our faith must be faithful.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this the distinction between “cheap” and “costly” grace. In his aptly named book: “The Cost of Discipleship” he tells us: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline…grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
You don’t have to be an adherent of literal interpretation to know that Jesus is not peddling “cheap grace” in this or any other gospel. Salvation demands discipleship. We must embrace Christ’s “costly grace.” And that is a grace that Bonhoeffer tells us: “… is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him.” Bonhoeffer, of course, had first-hand experience with costly grace. He paid the price of his discipleship to a Nazi executioner.
And so, the message of this gospel is that we cannot pocket the gift of salvation with a perfunctory thank you and ignore the cost of discipleship. Salvation and the cross are inexorably bound together. We must take up the cross of costly grace… giving and forgiving… praising God and serving neighbour. And that means paying the full price of discipleship… no discounts… no “blue light specials.” But even at full price… saving grace is still the bargain of a lifetime.