Cost of Discipleship

(Albert Leo) #1

In our Catholic parish, the Gospel reading for Sunday, Sept. 4th was from Luke 14:25-33. This passage has been, through recent centuries, probably the most difficult to explain to the average layman. Our pastor did the best he could–he changed the subject to the sacrifice of Maximillian Kolbe who volunteered to be executed by the Nazis in place of the father of a large family. Perhaps some of the biblical experts who use this Forum could address this topic head on, instead of dodging the issue.

Jesus makes it clear that the Call to Discipleship involves great human sacrifice. That’s understandable. To ‘take up one’s cross and follow Him’ one must put Him above material things–above one’s father, mother and children (Matt. 18: 8,9)–above life itself. Strong stuff, but believable. But to declare that, to be a true disciple, we must hate our families is an ugly distortion of the truth. Or is it? Matt. 12:48 seems to advise cutting one’s self from family ties is a part of discipleship. A ‘Google exegesis’ suggests that the word “hate” in the original passage from Luke could have meant “preferred over”. If that is so, why haven’t the modern biblical translations been brought up to date?

Several times in the past my agonistic/atheist colleagues have challenged me with: "How can you profess to be a Christian when your Scripture states………? And then they quote passages that demonstrate that they have read the bible at least as much as I have. Whenever they have cited Luke 14;25-33 I have had to remain silent. Can anyone help me?
Al Leo

(Jay Johnson) #2

Lol. Right? The first thing to remember is the context, which means not just the literary context, but the cultural context, as well. The Mediterranean culture of antiquity was an “honor/shame” culture. Within that context, personal identity is tied to family, first and foremost. Remember when Mary and Jesus’ brothers (I almost put “brothers” in quotes, since you’re Catholic) came to “restrain” Jesus in Mark 3:20-21? And then in Mark 3:31-34 they arrive, but Jesus declares that everyone who does the will of his Father is his brother and sister and mother. Jesus was redefining the meaning of “family” in that culture, asserting that becoming his follower means having a new family, and drawing one’s identity from the family of God, not one’s earthly relations. Jesus is essentially doing the same thing in Luke 14:25-35, although this time he pushes his metaphor even farther. In regard to why modern translations haven’t been brought up-to-date on using “hate” in v. 26, it depends on the translation. A paraphrase, such as the New Living Translation, renders it: “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison…” A more literal translation will always try to preserve the original wording, however.

The rest of my comments are a distillation of James R. Edwards’ commentary on Luke.

Luke characterizes discipleship as “coming to Jesus.” The full significance of that is sharpened in vv. 25-35 with reference to three exclusive premises… “Coming to Jesus, in other words, means acknowledging Jesus as the preeminent relationship in one’s life, whose costly mission determines the way of one’s life, and whose presence takes precedent over all things in life.” The requirement, in short, is exclusive allegiance to Jesus.

In verse 26, Jesus addresses the crowd, “all who are contemplating a relationship with Jesus, lest they imagine that familiarity with Jesus, even proximity to him, are substitutes for costly discipleship with him (13:26-27). … Matthew records the saying less offensively, ‘Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’ (10:37). … When a choice must be made between even the strongest of earthly bonds and Jesus, the disciple must choose the unbreakable bond with Jesus. ‘Hate’ in v. 26 should not be understood in terms of emotion or malice, but rather in its Hebraic sense, signifying the thing rejected in a choice between two important claims (Gen. 29:30-33, Deut. 21:15-17, Judg. 15:2), e.g., 'I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated (Mal. 1:2-3, Rom. 9:13). … the form in which it is presented was understood to convey the inestimable worth of a choice, not a malicious motive of a choice.”

In summary, “the point of v. 26 is that good things, even things created and commended by God such as father and mother and the honor due them (Ex. 20:12, Mark 7:10), cannot be given precedence over Jesus. When the good rivals the best, then it must be ‘hated’.”

As for the parables that follow, the emphasis doesn’t fall on the decision to start, but on the determination to finish. Theologians call it perseverance.

(Albert Leo) #3

Thanks, Jay. I hoped you would take the time to help me cope with Luke’s passage. You did help, but I am such a skeptic that I still wonder why a Scripture that we would like to claim as inspired & inerrant is so easily misconstrued in spots. I would like to have a video of the conference that decided on what parts of Luke’s writings would end up as canonical gospel. First of all, was Luke actually present when Jesus made the statements he ascribes to him? Or they second hand testimony? Could make a difference on their reliability.

I hope that it is possible that, even if one does not meet these strict requirements for discipleship, one still can be ‘saved’. For example, the last sentence in your quote above gives me pause, just as some aspects of the Trinity give me pause. My exclusive allegiance is to God the Creator of our Universe and does not, somehow, focus on the ‘person’ of the Godhead who became human. As you well know, this Christian emphasis on Jesus is the main sticking point preventing any real ecumenical fusion with Islam or Judaism. I don’t consider myself a heathen, but when considering the doctrine of the Trinity, I am more comfortable with three aspects of the Godhead, rather than three distinct persons. The more we learn of the stupendous Creation we live in, it is all too easy to conclude that we humans are an insignificant part of it. To me, Jesus is just God’s way of telling us, as unbelievable as it may seem, God not only thinks we are significant but that He deeply loves us. This is in total opposition to saying that to a true disciple of Jesus we must give him exclusive allegiance. I am certain that the more love I show my wife the more it shows that I love God. It is NOT a zero sum game.
God bless.
Al Leo

(Jim Lock) #4

@aleo @Jay313

I’m going to go ahead and jump into these already deep waters. While I can’t exactly add to the points already made, I do think it worthwhile to consider the passage before. In 12-24 Luke relates a parable about a wealthy man who invites all of his friends to dinner. Apparently the wealthy man is a bit off putting because all of his ‘friends’ found excuses to not attend. One needs to go look at a field, the other needs to look at some oxen, and in perhaps the most honest excuse a man simply points out that he just got married and well…

While the aforementioned story appears to happen while Jesus was at a dinner and 25-33 appear to happen on the road, I think its safe to say that Luke put these stories back to back for a reason. First, we see a list of excuses from people not wanting to do what they’ve been called to do and that is immediately followed by a rebuke from Jesus that excuses won’t cut it.

Furthermore, when we consider the Sermon on the Mount we see that Jesus is less concerned with outward action and more concerned with your intentions. In other words, where your heart is. I think we see that here, if I plainly see that the food kitchen is short-staffed for the weekend and convince myself that that I need to go look over my newly purchased oxen instead, then I am effectively choosing my own life over being Jesus’ disciple. [quote=“aleo, post:3, topic:5636”]
I am certain that the more love I show my wife the more it shows that I love God. It is NOT a zero sum game.

I think you’re exactly correct here. The 2nd rule to being Jesus’ disciple is loving your neighbor as yourself and somebody’s spouse is most definitely included. Taking Mrs. Leo on a romantic cabin getaway in which you miss a couple of Sunday’s of church does NOT mean you have chosen your wife over Jesus. I think what Luke is trying to get across here is that using your wife as an excuse to not attend church just because you don’t want to put on real pants and leave the house, won’t fly.


(Jay Johnson) #5

Uh-oh. We’re about to dive into deep waters here. I could go into detail, but I’d prefer just to sum up my position, which I think is an eminently reasonable one!

I’ve read the uber-skeptics, such as Bart Ehrman and some members of The Jesus Seminar, but I don’t find them persuasive. Luke himself tells us his procedure in 1:1-4, a passage written in beautiful classical Greek that clearly echoes the introductory statements of the best Greco-Roman histories. Luke clearly implies in v.1 that he has seen and read other written accounts (certainly including the Gospel of Mark), and in v.2 he refers to both oral traditions and eyewitness testimony. These are his sources. Keep in mind, too, that Greco-Roman historians operated differently than modern historians. Ancient historians placed the greatest value on eyewitness testimony, and relied upon written sources only when those were not available. This is pretty much the reverse of modern methods. Nevertheless, it was the procedure in antiquity, and criticizing Luke for employing the standard historical methods of his time is an anachronism, at best. So … (drumroll)

… In my opinion, the gospels preserve the closest thing we will ever have to the words that Jesus spoke. Trying to guess, 2000 years later, what he may or may not have actually said is an exercise in futility. J.D.G. Dunn hit the nail on the head when he said " “the earliest tradents within the Christian churches [were] preservers more than innovators…seeking to transmit, retell, explain, interpret, elaborate, but not create de novo…Through the main body of the Synoptic tradition, I believe, we have in most cases direct access to the teaching and ministry of Jesus as it was remembered from the beginning of the transmission process (which often predates Easter) and so fairly direct access to the ministry and teaching of Jesus through the eyes and ears of those who went about with him.”[quote=“aleo, post:3, topic:5636”]
I hope that it is possible that, even if one does not meet these strict requirements for discipleship, one still can be ‘saved’.

Remember that the same Jesus who emphasized the cost of discipleship also contrasted the small love for God of the Pharisee with the love of the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. We find the same thing in his story of the humble tax collector who would not even lift his eyes to God, contrasted with the Pharisee who boasted of his accomplishments for the Lord. Who was forgiven, in both cases?

One common thread with the above examples and Lk. 14:26 is that Jesus is overturning the preconceived notions of his society and culture. Popular opinion of the day was that righteousness was strictly a matter of following the law. Jesus reverses the received wisdom and says instead that it is the woman and the tax collector who were righteous in God’s sight. In the same way, Jesus was challenging the status quo of his culture when he claimed a higher allegiance than that owed to family. At that time, it was unthinkable for a daughter or son to go against their parent’s wishes. Remember that in Lk. 12:49-53, Jesus warned that he would divide households, three against two and two against three. In 14:26, you could say he is preparing his disciples for that eventuality, and warning them to choose wisely.

Perhaps an example would help. (Not changing the subject, I hope!) A Catholic friend of mine had an only daughter whom she loved more than anything. After the girl grew up and graduated high school, she announced she was no longer a believer. The mother was so torn up by the thought that her daughter would not be saved, she turned away from the faith, as well. I think this is what Jesus was warning against.

(Jay Johnson) #6

This is a difficulty, isn’t it! There is an axiom in systematic theology: Hard verses make bad theology. In short, the proper procedure is to begin with what is clear, and then seek to understand how the harder statements of Scripture fit. The wrong procedure is to begin with what is difficult and unclear, and then try to build a theology around what is an “iffy” interpretation.


In an honor/shame culture, a dinner invitation demanded reciprocation, one that could be costly if the original invitation originated with someone from higher social status. It could be deemed reasonable (but probably not “acceptable”) to refuse the invitation for fear of the cost.


C.S. Lewis might say that to love your wife the best and most appropriately, you have to love God the most, lest you turn your wife into an idol and diminish both her value and your love for her. Something along those lines.

(Albert Leo) #9

Thanks for responding. I hope I can explain how I can reverse the order in your quote above and make it more meaningful to me. I hope I will be excused for using personal experiences to do so.

As a soldier at the end of WWII awaiting a medical discharge, I was home on leave and signed up for a class to learn ballroom dancing so I could meet girls. I did meet this cute girl who was there with her boyfriend, but I was too shy to say more than a few words to her. As we were leaving–me in a borrowed car; she with her boyfriend and another couple–I heard her ask her boyfriend: “Why don’t we ask that soldier to come with us for a coke. He looks lonely.” That sounded as though it came straight from a compassionate heart, and it overcame my innate shyness so that later, on a chance encounter, I asked her for a date.

Some 71 years later (deliriously happy years) she is housebound–now physically handicapped, but mentally alert and with the same lloving and compassionate heart that was so evident in the 15 year old girl I first met. All throughout those years I could see first hand the presence of our God living inside her. So it wasn’t that I loved God the most and, thru that love, later learned to love her. More the other way around. I loved God before she and I met, but living with someone so loving and compassionate was solid proof to me that those qualities must have come from the God we worship. And later, as I pursued a career in science, no arguments from my agnostic colleagues could shake that Faith.

The biggest question I still have is: Why am I so lucky. Why isn’t everyone just as lucky?
Al Leo


Absolutely. But your situation could have been: I love her with the highest love. Have you read Lewis’s The Great Divorce? Weird book, but there is a poignant scene in which a mother is pursuing her dead son as her highest goal…

(Albert Leo) #11

I agree, Jay. And it bothers me when Dawkins or Harris parade these ‘difficult passages’ to evangelize their atheism. That said, there is some truth to the old saying: "For many things of value, it is best not to look too closely at how they are made; that is, how the butcher makes sausage; how the legislature makes laws; and (probably) how the Church Fathers decided which of the proposed gospels were to be considered canonical.
Al Leo

(Albert Leo) #12

Thanks. I will order it promptly. So far, what I have read of C. S. Lewis, makes me believe that our minds operate on different frequencies. But maybe this book will prove otherwise.
Al Leo

(Jim Lock) #13


Good stuff. It seems to me that the next logical question becomes “How was Luke using this parable/What did Luke understand Jesus’ meaning here?”

Was Jesus using this aspect of Middle Eastern/Jewish culture to simply himself up for later? He uses a cultural situation in which his audience found the friend’s actions reasonable. This allows him to emphasize the cost of attending dinner/following Jesus. The poor and destitute have little to lose and thus would find the potential cost worthwhile considering that they are starving and getting a meal. While this isn’t made explicitly clear, it stands to reason that Jesus’ audience would have made those associations pretty quickly.

On the other hand, Jesus may have been turning that particular social convention upside down. The friend’s are cast in a negative light despite that fact that his audience might be tempted to sympathize with them. Once it becomes clear that the prevalent honor/shame culture is NOT what God wants for his kingdom then all possible excuses are stripped away and a person’s heart is laid bare. In short, if Jesus and Luke are attacking cultural norms it forces their respective audiences to question their own motivations in practicing those cultural norms.

While @aleo only asked about 25-33, I think that verse 34 is a more natural ending for that section given the ‘Those who have ears let them hear’ refrain. I bring that up because the salt metaphor seems to be relevant to understanding this section but I can’t quite figure out how…if we’re salt and we lose our usefulness…our usefulness is supposed to parallel what exactly? Our willingness to bear a specific cost? Or, the condition of our hearts? Been thinking about this all day, appreciate the stimulating conversation.



I think it’s both.

(Jay Johnson) #15

If we look at Chap. 14 as a whole, it begins with a formal banquet with Jesus as the guest of honor. “Table fellowship” followed pretty strict rules. Honor/shame cultures are very hierarchical and sensitive to social status and rank. Typically, a host would only invite his social equals. Inviting someone “higher” on the social scale carried a risk that they would decline the invitation, which would publicly “shame” the host. Hosts also had a responsibility to protect the ritual cleanliness of their guests. This included serving kosher foods, but it also included not inviting anyone who might be “unclean” and compromise the guests’ own purity. Once the guests arrived, they would take their places at the table according to sex, age, and social status. (The same type of situation held in synagogues and just about every social interaction.) Uninvited people of lower status were usually allowed to attend formal meals, as long as they stood against the walls and merely observed the proceedings.

Now, notice how the chapter begins. A man with dropsy (edema) would be considered unclean. Why is he at the meal, since he never would have been allowed inside the Pharisee’s house under normal circumstances? And why is he placed directly across from Jesus? Obviously, the man was a “plant,” and the Pharisee had arranged the whole situation to test Jesus. This explains Jesus’ reaction and leads directly to the parable of the guests seeking the best seats and the parable of inviting the poor, the lame, the blind, the crippled (which the Pharisee had done with the man suffering from dropsy, but for a dishonest purpose).

Jesus’ parables were a direct challenge that “shamed” the host, so in v.15 a guest tries to defuse the tension by changing the subject. But Jesus will not let it go. He tells another story of a banquet, this time involving guests who were invited, but refused to come, and the poor, the blind, the lame, and the crippled, as well as random people “compelled” to come. Since this parable is in response to the “kingdom of God” comment in v. 15, we should interpret it in that light. The “invited” who refuse represent those Jews who refused God’s invitation. The poor, blind, lame, crippled and “strangers” on the highway were considered “sinners,” because that society thought that health, wealth, and long life were signs of God’s favor, while sickness, poverty, and early death were obvious signs of God’s disfavor. Jesus turns their ideas on their heads and informs them that those they thought were cursed by God will enjoy the banquet in the kingdom, while those who were invited miss out.

The “salt” metaphor refers back to 25-33. Those who start strong and fail to persevere are like salt that has lost its saltiness, its purpose. Such are “thrown out.”

(Amy Chai) #16

Scripture must all be taken in context. Never are we called upon to “hate” anything or anyone except for hating evil. It is obvious to me that the Bible does not call upon us to “hate” our families. In fact, I am kind of surprised to see that anyone has ever interpreted this verse in that way. God calls upon us to “love our enemies” and “love our neighbor as ourselves” and he states that anyone who does NOT care for his own family is “worse than an infidel.” Also, it clearly also says we should, “hate our own life” which we are clearly not called upon to hate ourselves or any other human being. In light of these many scriptures, I find it strange that anyone would interpret this section so literally using the English word to do so.

This section is the “cost of discipleship.” What happens if your family does not want you to follow Christ? What happens if a Jihadists asks you to convert or die? This section is telling you that you must place following Christ above all else. This is the first and the greatest commandment, which is to love the lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. If even an angel from heaven tells you any other thing, you must not change your course. The clear meaning of this passage is that Christians must understand that discipleship is not easy. It may mean that your parents or someone else who is close to you will turn against you. It may mean that someone will want to slice your head off with a rusty machete. If you understand this fact, then you may be a disciple. This verse plays out with great heartbreak every day in the middle east when Muslims convert. Their family disowns them and threatens to kill them. How painful to be rejected in this way, how difficult it must be. Yes, they must “hate” their family. Obviously it cannot mean “hate” in the way your atheist friend thinks, because if your family becomes your enemy, you are commanded to LOVE YOUR ENEMY. So what it means is that you must accept the possible price of losing the love of people who might reject you if you follow Christ.

(Jay Johnson) #17

Because, in the honor/shame culture that still operates in that region of the world, a son or daughter who leaves Islam brings shame upon the entire family. It is the same dynamic that you see operating in the so-called “honor killings” that were in the news not so long ago.

(Albert Leo) #18

Amy, my atheist friends say that the Scripture upon which our Christian Faith relies contains many contradictions. And, let’s be honest, these ‘contradictions’ have supported the livelihoods of many ministers and biblical experts in their efforts to provide reasonable exegesis. In regard to Luke 14:25-33, you say:

But I find it–not strange–but very difficult to take it any other way. Like you, I see the rest of Scripture teaching something very different: Our God is a God of Love. And this is how I experience Him in my life. But I still wonder why we keep passages like this one of Luke’s as part of scripture. Most of Luke’s gospel is exceptionally uplifting. In the world of science, it has frequently happened that gross errors have been accepted into respected textbooks. When the error is recognized, it is deleted. My “atheist friends” wonder why we do not have the guts to do likewise. Sometimes I wonder, too.
God bless.
Al Leo

(Jay Nelsestuen) #19


The best way I’ve heard it explained is this: We are required by Christ to love him so completely, so totally, so utterly, that all our other love (our love for our families, our friends, and our enemies) looks like hate; that our love for Christ is infinitely greater than our love for anything/anyone else.

FWIW, that’s the interpretation I tend to fall back on.


(Jay Johnson) #20

Because what may seem “hard” to us may have been perfectly obvious to the people of the time. Every language has its own idioms and figures of speech that may seem baffling to an outsider. The Hebraic idiom in Luke would not have the same effect on his audience, since they would have been familiar with that usage.

Here’s an example from the internet: "When my eldest was a baby, someone asked whether she favored my husband or me. My rambling answer was “Well, she spends more time with me so she’s probably more attached to me right now, but I wouldn’t say she necessarily prefers me.” Doubtless the other person was thinking, “What is this idiot Brit talking about?” since “favor” in this situation meant “to bear a physical resemblance.”