Jesus is traveling from village to village on his way to Jerusalem. A large crowd has joined him and so one day he turns to the crowed and confronts them with the cost of discipleship, the cost of following him. A person who decides to follow Jesus should count the cost of discipleship. Christian discipleship requires a loyalty, above all human loyalties, to a rejected messiah. Such loyalty comes with its troubles and limitations, and for this reason rests primarily on divine grace.
v25. The "large crowds" following ("traveling with") Jesus clues us to the recipients of these hard sayings; they are potential disciples.
v26. This saying, and the following one, is paralleled in Matthew 10:37-38, and serves to remind the potential disciple that there is a cost associated with discipleship. "Hate" is used in the sense of subordinating our natural affections, even our own being, in commitment to Jesus. A person who decides for Jesus may well find their family opposed to their new faith. In such a circumstance, loyalty to Jesus takes precedence over loyalty to family.
v27. The demand that a person "carry their cross", is a call for complete commitment for salvation to Jesus the humiliated messiah.
v28-30. This parable, and the one following, are unique to Luke. A wise person would consider the "cost" of building a tower before commencing work. Similarly, a would-be disciple needs to consider the cost of discipleship.
v31-33. A wise person would consider the "cost" of going to war before tackling an enemy who could easily overwhelm them. Faced with such an enemy, a wise person would sue for peace. A would-be disciple should consider the cost - don't start what you can't finish.
v34-35. The disciple, whose commitment to Jesus is paltry (halfhearted, lukewarm, limited, faulty.....), will find themselves rejected and cast out like polluted (diluted) salt. Leeched salt is worthless salt, leaving a useless white powder, good for nothing. This crowd is considering the way, but needs to be reminded that the way is demanding. Are they of the right stuff to complete the journey? If not, judgment awaits
Commentators on this passage tend to take one of two lines of interpretation. The more common approach is to regard Jesus' purpose (and of course that of Luke) as "awakening the halfhearted (lukewarm) follower (disciple) to the disastrous consequences of this kind of discipleship", Earle Ellis. If our commitment is lukewarm and our love of Jesus week and feeble, then we will find ourselves cast out like leeched salt. The warning is clear and so we had better pull our socks up or else.
It is true that Jesus' "hard" words have the effect of shaking the "lukewarm" disciple. None of us want to end up like degraded salt thrown out on the garbage tip. So, if these words prompt us to rededicate our lives through faith in the renewing work of the Spirit, well and good. Mind you, even then we will always be "lukewarm", unworthy servants.
For other commentators, the purpose of these "hard words" is to "dissuade the prospective Christian." The words serve to draw out the genuine seeker, the person more likely to go the distance. I remember a young friend working in Woolworths and asking to be considered for promotion. The next day he was made to serve on the sweets counter. After his humiliation, and without spitting the dummy, he was offered a traineeship. So yes, Jesus' hard words do serve to sort out the stayer from the wimp.
For a person thinking of taking up with Jesus, this passage reminds us that there is a cost. So much of our life is dependent on self, but when it comes to our salvation, self-reliance must be set aside for a total dependence of Jesus, the cross-bearing Christ. Such a decision for Christ comes with consequences: humiliation, shame, trouble in relationships and life in general. None-the-less, given the up-side, let us decide to accept Christ's authority over everything.
1. Unless you "hate" you "cannot be my disciple." Can you "hate" with such dedication, and if not, how can you be protected from an end like saltless salt?
2. Is lukewarm discipleship an acceptable path, and if not, what should we do about it?