Reflections for the Week of September 4, 2016 Sixteenth after Pentecost

Gospel: Luke 14.25-33. In this text Jesus makes several important observations to His disciples. They must put Him ahead of everything in order to be His disciples in the face of the hardships they will encounter. Like builders and rulers they must count the cost of what they plan–following Him. Following Him is like bearing the cross-beam of a cross to the site of crucifixion. Like the recent text about Jesus bringing fire and division (Lk 12.49f.), this text is pretty severe. But Jesus wants His disciples to know the truth. It is better that they know before signing on, otherwise they might desert when the going gets tough.

I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoffer’s aphorism that Jesus bids us to come and die. Bonhoffer was executed at the end of World War II for trying to kill Hitler. But when you stop to think about it, we’re all going to die, regardless. Heb 12.2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. Following Jesus may involve suffering, but the suffering is not worthy of comparison with the glory which shall be revealed in His people (Rm 8.18). And there may be lots of suffering, maybe more, for those who refuse to follow Jesus. Life, either way, may not be a picnic. Following Him means the narrow gate and the strait way, the way of spiritual discipline and pleasing God, but that’s a better way of life than selfish pleasure and reckless ambition. Following Jesus means loving God and loving others, and that may not be easy, but it’s better than a life of anger, retaliation, and revenge. Forgiveness and conciliation are surely difficult, but are undoubtedly more beneficial than bitterness and implacability. Jesus says to follow Him means to hate your parents, but surely this is hyperbole. Jesus means one must prefer Him even to one’s parents, if it came down to making a choice. And maybe in some instances a person is forced to make a choice. Parents may put demands and restrictions on their off-spring that are unacceptable. An example would be requiring them to remain in a cult, or a dishonest occupation, or an unreasonable dependency. Following Jesus would be better regardless of the consequences.

Bearing one’s cross may mean dying to oneself, and this is surely one of the commitments to following Jesus. We all have a tendency to put ourselves and our own desires ahead of other things, but love means to put others ahead of ourselves.. In loving others we must in some senses die to ourselves. Jesus in going to the cross literally to take away our sins and reconcile us to the Father showing that love may require sacrifice. But love is the source of joy even when it involves sacrifice. Crucifying our selfishness and loving others is surely the heart of Jesus’ message to humanity, and surely peace and joy are the promises held out to us. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) says His disciples should not stand on their rights as a first and foremost foundational principle. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other. If someone requires you to walk one mile, be willing to walk another. If someone insults you, overlook it. In other words, meet aggression with conciliation. Overcome evil with good. Love those who hate you. To live according to these precepts is unnatural and countercultural, but it is the way Jesus lived and it is the way to peace and the way God wants us to live. It is the way Jesus taught His disciples to live because it is the way that is worthy of God. It is through small discipleship groups that we can learn to put these principles into practice and be accountable to one another. We can’t do it alone; we need the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of others to enable us to live this way.

Memory Verse: Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rm 13.10).

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