As I was reading the Gospel Lesson for this Sunday (you can find it by clicking here), I couldn’t help getting really, really uncomfortable. (That, i’m convinced, is often the reaction Jesus wants his listeners/readers to come away with!) On the one hand, the two images Jesus uses for considering a life of discipleship—preparing to build a tower or developing a strategy to engage the enemy in battle—seem reasonable enough. I am not a general contractor but I’ve seen enough of my DIY jobs go wrong to know that without careful consideration of materials, tools, and skills required to get the job done it’s better to call in the professionals. And while the closest I’ve ever gotten to devising a war plan was a never-to-be-forgotten game of Risk played over several days with friends from a seminary dorm, even THAT experience taught me you won’t get far in a war without adequate troops strategically placed. I get what Jesus is saying loud and clear about counting the cost. It makes sense. The problem—and this is where my discomfort comes in—is that Jesus equates being one of his followers with some pretty extreme and very “unreasonable” talk. He says that unless I hate my family (and even my own life)…unless I give away all that I have I can’t be His disciple. “Count the cost,” Jesus says (28). “Think about it” (31). “Unless you bear your own cross and follow me you cannot be my disciple.” The longer I let those words resonate in the air the more uncomfortable I become. The more I really do try to count the cost, the more I’m inclined to give up the notion of being Jesus’ disciple at all.
As we return from summer vacations and launch full throttle into a fall schedule with an endless horizon of school activities, holiday plans, work travel, augmented responsibilities on the job (and the list goes on and on)…so many things are competing for our attention and allegiances. It is hard NOT to get swept away by it all, forgetting that our call to be disciples of Jesus happens in spite of (and in the midst) of all those other claims on us. Perhaps it seems almost inevitable to conclude that we are little more than starry-eyed tower builders who can’t get the job done. Maybe it starts to dawn on us that while we may talk a good talk about fighting this or that battle, we’d be better off surrendering before we ever got started.
So yeah, sometimes the Scriptures bring a message that shakes my self-confidence and gets me asking questions, to say the least. But a daily devotion delivered to my Inbox this morning contained these words from Classical and Near Eastern Research Studies Fellow Kristofer Coffman who was similarly challenged by this text: “While I don't have a delegation to send, I do pray and ask God ‘for the terms of peace.’ In those moments, I am reminded of the words of Colossians 1:20—‘through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.’ It turns out that, while I was busy counting my tower-building costs, God beat me to the punch with One who has already paid the price.”
In Lutheran churches you’ll often find a crucifix (cross with figure of Jesus attached) as well as the “empty” cross more readily seen in other Protestant houses of worship. The figure of the crucified Jesus may make us uncomfortable. But there we see the one who paid the price we could never pay. While we were still counting the cost, God beat us to the punch with the only One who could truly pay it.
Do Jesus’ words make you uncomfortable? Maybe that’s the point. In the midst of all the claims on you and your time this week, focus on JESUS’ cross and what it means for unworthy, would-be followers of His like us. You might barely even notice that cross you’re given to carry, as a result.