Thomas J Parlette
“Counting the Cost”
Luke 14: 25-33
It’s very important to take time to think things through. For instance, there’s a story about a pro football player who wasn’t very fond of curfews when the team was playing on the road. So this player had a routine that he followed whenever his team was in another city. If he wanted to stay out after curfew, he would take whatever he could find loose in his hotel room and cram it under his bed cover so it would look like he was in his room, asleep.
However, in one hotel there was very little in his room that would fit under the blankets. The only thing he could russle up that was the right size was a floor lamp. So he stuffed the lamp under his covers and headed out for a night of misadventures. The only problem was that an assistant coach came by to do a bed check and when he turned on the light switch, the players bed lit up like a Christmas tree. The poor guy just didn’t think that plan through very well.
Some of you are probably familiar with the Darwin awards. The Darwin awards are given out every year to people who do particularly dumb things. One of the finalists for the award a few years back was a teenager who ended up in the hospital recovering from some serious head wounds that he got from an oncoming train. When asked how he received the injuries, the young man told police that he was simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he got hit. Well, he certainly found out.(1)
You can save a lot of headaches in life if you take the time to think things through. And, as with many aspects of our modern life, there is an app to help you out with that. It’s an app called On Second Thought. The developer, Maci Peterson, was out late one night and she sent an embarrassing text. When she woke up the next morning, she realized that she had said some things she shouldn’t have said and regretted sending any text at all. So she developed her app On Second Thought – which has 2 main features:
-a “recall” function that gives the user up to 60 seconds to reclaim a text before it’s sent.
- and a “curfew setting” which holds all text messages until a designated time. So if you’re out late and don’t trust the condition you’re in, you might want to review your texts the following morning and make sure it’s something you really want to send before it goes out. The app automatically holds your text for you until the next day. (2) That way you can avoid any rash decisions made in the heat of the moment. It’s always best to think things through and count the costs.
In today’s Gospel text, Jesus is addressing the increasing crowd of people following him as he makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. He seems to suspect that many in the crowd were just along for the ride, waiting to see what miracle he might do next or hoping to get in on the action if Jesus was going to start a revolt against the Romans.
It’s not surprising that so many were following him. Right before this story, Jesus told a parable about a great dinner. None of the invited guests wanted to come, so the host invited the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind to come to the feast. That sounded pretty good to the crowds – free food allows draws a crowd – so they followed along with Jesus.
But then we come to this story where Jesus tells the crowd “You better count the costs of being my disciple.”
He starts out his warning with another one of those difficult sayings that just don’t sound like Jesus – “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Pretty harsh. How can Jesus say that? Does he mean this literally? What is Jesus trying to say here?
You may remember the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” The plot centers on a writer from New York City who tries to understand a group of rather eccentric residents of Savannah, Georgia. One thing in particular that flummoxes the New Yorker is their penchant for understatement. The film is set in the 1980’s, although a woman nevertheless refers to the Civil War as “that recent unpleasantness.” When an intruder interrupts a fancy dinner party firing a pistol at the ceiling and brandishing the jagged edge of a broken whiskey bottle, he is flatly appraised by dinner guests as “a colorful character.” A man sentenced to federal prison for embezzlement is said to have been snared by “a little accounting issue.”
What makes the film so amusing is the growing awareness that for all those eccentric characters practiced in the art of understatement, everything they say makes perfect sense. For the visiting New Yorker, who is not privy to their unspoken cultural assumptions behind every conversation, it is impenetrable. He remains mystified.
Well, if we could visit first-century Palestine, we might have a similar experience. As the citizens of Savannah were masters of understatement, so the Rabbi’s of Jesus’ day excelled at hyperbole. Hyperbole is the opposite of understatement. It is a bold exaggeration used for dramatic effect. If you are an outsider unfamiliar with the linguistic rules of the game, it can be confusing, and infuriating.
“Whoever comes to me,” says Jesus, “and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Such a statement sounds ridiculous, even offensive – to those who immune to hyperbole. Like the New York writer from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, we take literally what is meant figuratively. “Hate you father and mother” is a figure of speech used for dramatic effect.(3)
Does Jesus really mean this? Well – yes and no
Jesus isn’t telling us to literally “hate” everyone and everything in life. What he means by this is to encourage people to count the costs. Be sure you know what you’re getting into if you decide to become a disciple of Jesus. You have to be “all in,” so to speak.
To clarify why he says this outrageous statement about hating people, Jesus cites a couple of examples of how we might count the costs. If you are building a tower, you sit down, you make a budget, you draw up plans and you figure out how much it will all cost. If you’re a king getting ready to go to war, you try to think things through and make sure you have enough soldiers and weapons to win – otherwise, it would be better to send a delegation to try and work out a peaceful resolution.
Likewise, if you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you need to count the cost and make sure you’re prepared to go all in.
With these cautionary words, Jesus isn’t trying to dissuade us from following him. Instead, he is afraid that we may spend our lives splashing about in the shallow end of life when the real adventure lies in the deep waters. For instance, there was once a mother who was teaching her young son how to swim. She stood before him as he moved along the surface, his arms and legs moving in rhythm. He was also aware of the dreaded deep end of the pool. As soon as they crossed the floating markers and the water turned a darker shade of blue, he would panic, lifting his head and flailing his arms. His mother would encourage him; “Don’t be afraid. I am still with you. Swimming in deep water is no different than swimming in the shallow end. Trust me.”
With this strange, disturbing statement, Jesus says, “Trust me. Follow me into the deep. I will be with you.” This is not scolding. It is encouragement. Encouragement to hold nothing back, to be all God has called us to be.
The alternative is a life of regret. In Anne Tyler’s novel The Amateur Marriage, Michael Anton is an 80 year- old man looking back on his uneventful life. He has made some mistakes, but he has avoided all the big pitfalls. He can say that he never cheated anybody or tossed anyone aside. He has successfully avoided most big risks and mistakes in life. But Michael is filled with regret. He wishes “he had inhabited more of his life, used it better, filled it fuller.”(4)
In this passage, Jesus uses hyperbole. Jesus exaggerates. He says something shocking as a means to a greater end. He beckons us to count the cost, then go all in and follow him into the deep areas of life with one goal in mind - to inhabit more of our lives, to use our days better and fill them fuller, to experience life abundant.
Let us be thankful for the invitation!
May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol XXXV, No. 3, p52
3. Mark Ralls, Feasting on the Gospels, Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, p74.