“One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, ‘Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.’”—Luke 14:25-27, The Message
After I read this passage to my Bible study class this past Sunday, I asked: “OK. How many are ready to sign up?” They all looked at me like I had lost my mind. Who would be willing to put his or her family second to Jesus? Even more appropriate, who would be willing to follow the admonition to put your “own self”—your prejudices, hopes, and personal goals—aside to follow Jesus? The word “hate” for the Jews meant to be willing to detach oneself or put away something. Jesus is saying that you must value your relationship with him over every other relationship, even your commitment to your own ideas and comfort. You must make Jesus your first priority.
This is not easy and that’s what Jesus is emphasizing. At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is “on a roll.” His popularity is increasing and people are hanging on his every word whether they understand him or not. “Yes, Jesus, bring on the messianic feast. We are ready to celebrate.”
Jesus decides it is time to give everyone a dose of reality about what it really means to be a disciple and to define the road that he and his disciples will have to walk in the future. Jesus talks about “carrying the cross” even before he has been asked to carry his own cross. The people listening would have been aware that those condemned to die by crucifixion had to carry the instrument of their death—the crossbar of the cross—to their execution. This is a heavy burden to bear, not only physically but emotionally. Death on the cross was both painful and shameful.
Jesus is not painting a pretty picture, and he has a very good reason. He wants the crowd (and us) to realize that discipleship is not a matter of convenience. The way to resurrection leads through the cross. What do you think their response was? What is your response?