Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

What Makes A Disciple?

List the qualities that define someone as a Christian. What is the most important quality? Why?

Have you ever had someone "put you up on a pedestal" for being a Christian? As much as you may protest, that person acts different around you. And treats you different from others. After all, you might go to church on Sunday, pray daily, and read Scripture regularly. You might even be involved in a renewal movement like the Charismatic Movement, Cursillo, or Marriage Encounter. That person admires you for being closer to God than he or she is. After all, you have a spiritual resume.

Unfortunately, people like those who put "good" Christians on pedestals miss the point. These behaviors and habits are good. But they do not define what makes a true follower. Devotion defines discipleship. The Christian makes Jesus the center of his or her life.

Popular Translation

25 Many people traveled with Jesus. So, he turned and told them, 26 "If someone comes to me and does not make me more important than his family, that person cannot be my follower. 27 If someone does not carry his cross, that person cannot be my follower.

28 "Think about building a tower for your farm. Wouldn't you sit down first and figure out if you had enough money? 29 If someone doesn't figure out their money, he might lay the foundation, but then find he cannot finish the tower. Then, the people who saw his progress would laugh, 30 'Hey, he can't finish what he started!' 31 Or, think of king who was preparing to fight against another king. Wouldn't he sit down and figure out if his ten thousand men could beat the twenty thousand men the other king was sending against him? 32 If his men couldn't, the king would send a representative to find out the terms for peace while the other king was still far away. 33 So, if all of you cannot make me more important than your possessions, you cannot be my follower."

In Luke, Jesus preached on the cost of discipleship. The person that could not place Jesus first in his or her life was not able to be his follower. This was not a rejection by Jesus. The person that had split priorities, in the end, could not fully choose for Jesus. And be a complete disciple.

Literal Translation

25 Large crowds traveled together with HIM. Having turned, HE said to them, 26 "If someone comes to me, and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes indeed, his own life, he is not able to be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his cross is not able to be my disciple. 28 For who among you wishing to built a tower does not, having sat first, calculates (its) cost, if he has (the money) for completion? 29 (If) not then, after he set his foundation and was not (financially) strong (enough) to finish (the tower), the ones watching might begin to ridicule him, 30 saying 'This man began to build, and he is not (financially) strong (enough) to finish (the tower).' 31 Or, what king, setting out to wage war against another king, having not sat down first, will consider if he (has enough) power in ten thousand (troops) to meet (the king) with twenty thousand (troops) approaching him? 32 If not, (the other king) still being far away, (the king), having set a representative, he asks for the (conditions) for peace. 33 So then, all of you who do not renounce all of his possessions is not able to be my disciple."

14:26 "hate his father and mother, his wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes indeed, his own life" This is the priority list for a person living in an ancient culture. Unlike our Western emphasis on the individual view point, people in the time of Jesus looked for the good of the clan. Since parents defined the clan, they came first, then spouse and offspring, extended family, and, finally, the self. (Americans would place self first, spouse and children next, parents third, and extended family last.)

14:28 "build a tower" This could be a lookout tower for a vineyard.

14:28-30 These verses actually from one sentence. It has a rhetorical question with a direct address to the crowd ("you"), then a scenario in the third person ("him") about the social shame someone would bear if he did not complete the tower.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus laid out three "trip wires" for discipleship: attachment to family, the hard consequences of discipleship, and attachment to possessions. All three have a caveat. If someone cannot detach from family or possessions, if someone cannot live out the consequences of Christian life, he or she "is not able to be my disciple" [26b, 27b, 33b].

Attachment to family came first. For, place in family defined place in society. Jesus did not condemn society or the clan system that built it. He simply used a Semitic idiom of extreme language to make his point. When he said "hate," Jesus was not talking about emotional revulsion and physical distance. He was talking about spiritual detachment, the ability to put God first (before relationship or self-interest). Indeed, spiritual detachment requires one to die to self-interest and let God be Lord of one's life. Without such detachment, one does not have the ability to truly follow Jesus. [26]

Next, Jesus spoke of carrying one's cross. We moderns sometimes reduce the meaning of this phrase to our personal struggles. For early Christians, however, this phrase had a far more literal meaning. As Jesus went to the cross, his followers could taste death for their devotion to the Master. Jesus, then, told his audience they must accept that palpable danger. If they did not, they did not have the ability to be a true disciple. [27]

Third, Jesus turned again to the notion of attachment. This time, he addressed the subject of possessions with two parables. The first parable involved a farmer constructing a silo (i.e., a "tower"). Without the money, why should a farmer rush to build a silo that will stand only half-finished? If that happened, the farmer would look like a fool. [28-30]

(In Luke, the subject of social shame as approached in an interesting manner. Disengagement from family and accepting the consequences of discipleship would bring a general shame of society upon the follower, but not in the Christian community itself. The person who had so confused his priorities between Jesus and possessions would have no honor inside or outside the community.)

The second parable spoke of a king planning strategy against a belligerent opponent. Can the king win the battle against an army twice the size of his own? Or should he sue for peace? [31-32] In either case, the message of Jesus rang out clearly. Stop! Think long and hard about Christian discipleship before a decision is made. Divided priorities drain the ability of the person to be a disciple.

Luke created a symmetry between the first and third "trip wire." In the end, discipleship required one to "renounce" both possessions of the earth and possessions of the heart (i.e., one's relationships). Again, renouncing meant the same as "hating." Both meant putting God first. [14:33]

Catechism Theme: Our Participation in Christ's Sacrifice (CCC 618)

Discipleship not only means to follow the Master with our "cross." It also means to reveal the crucified Christ to others. In other words, through our struggles and the consequences of faith, Christ is present, to us and to those who see us.

As the old saying goes, "God is in the details." When we put God first in life, we open the door for him to touch people in ways unimaginable. These ways far transcend any religious activities or behaviors we engage in. He works through us!

Think of the ways Christ has touched you through others. Which ways have nothing to do with religious activities (Sunday Mass, daily prayer, Bible study, etc.)? How do these "non-religious" ways confirm the people are truly disciples?

We all have possessions, relationships, or ideals we guard zealously. Like Jesus' challenge to his audience, he asks us if we can stand back and view them in the bigger picture. Before we grab these things, people, or causes and hold them close, can we ask God how important they are and what priority we give them? Can we look to the Father first and put everything else second?

How can we put God first in our lives? Here's a simple exercise to help us focus on God. First, mentally focus on your greatest accomplishments. Next, ask yourself if these were your successes or God's gifts to you. Finally, ask yourself if you can give those milestones back to God.