Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Niggly Verses

Yesterday's staff meeting trek through Luke's gospel delivered me to the end of chapter 14. My colleagues will have the joy of Luke 15. In case you don't recall here is the text of 14:25-35:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

'Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

'Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

'Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

'Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.'

I like the idea Leon Morris suggests, that the geography of this piece is not clear but it is Jesus 'turning' to face the crowd who have been following him. We often get a view of Jesus attracting crowds but there is much evidence that he tried to get away from them or avoid them (See Mark 1:38; John 6:15 for example).

Do we sell the urgency of making a decision to follow Jesus, or explain to people that it is too costly and they won't be able to hack it? I like the idea of trying to put people off in order to put them on.

We are not to hate our family literally. A guy who taught love pretty much unconditionally wouldn't mean that. It is either hyperbole or the awkwardness of translating a comparative from Aramaic (Jesus' native tongue). Discipleship is a matter of the state of mind of the Jesus follower. It is a different order of things to family matters. It is akin to a one-way journey - a journey a cross-carrier made would have been clear in the mind of Jesus' audience. The Romans preferred to make a public spectacle of offenders against their rules.
So the central part of this piece of teaching is a two-pronged look at the cost of discipleship. A person doing a building project doesn't want to have half a building standing as a lasting memorial to their failure to complete. But a person, who on balance is about to lose big-time, will contemplate a fixed loss now against a massive disaster later (an insurance premium if you like). In order to avoid losing everything a king will work on terms for his people's surrender - something that had happened down the history of Israel described in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.
In example one Jesus asks if we can afford to follow him. In example two he asks if we dare risk refusing his approach.
He ends by talking of salt. Again much is made about salt being a flavouring and a preservative. In fact, unless the salt is really low quality, its flavouring will not go. But poor regions of ancient kingdoms probably had much low-grade salt. It would be bad enough not to work domestically yet effective enough to ruin your compost. You want your compost to rot, not to be preserved.
If you have many redeeming qualities as a human being but have not Jesus' sort of discipleship you are useless. I'm not calling you useless. But I think Jesus is. Good morning.

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