Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Die Rich or Live Poor?

Just when I think I’ve got the gospel lesson (Luke 14:25-33) figured out, Jesus goes and tacks on a closing sentence like this one and blows everything out of the water: “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Sure, discipleship is costly, but isn’t that a little extreme?

We’re making our way through some tough sayings of Jesus. Last Sunday, it was the “choose the lowest place” and “invite the poor to dinner” bits of Luke 14. We skipped the parable of the man whose originally invited guests made excuses, forcing him to invite the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. And now we pull it all together with a reflective teaching that’s supposed to focus our understanding of discipleship into a sound-bite that we can take away. I thought it was going to be “count the cost,” but how can you get through this reading without stumbling over “give up all your possessions?”

Is discipleship costly? Yes. Can I even get my mind around giving up family affiliations if they stand in the way of my discipleship? Yes. Would I use the language “hate father and mother?” No, but I get what Jesus is saying. (He’s on a roll; don’t interrupt him!) Should each of us consider the real cost of discipleship before jumping on board? Absolutely. Saying “yes” to God can lead you into places you didn’t expect (or want) to go. (Just ask any of the disciples who met untimely deaths because of their affiliation with Jesus.) But then we get to the end of the speech, and we expect Jesus to have moved from parabolic speech to literal speech—from exaggeration to clarity—and, instead of something sensible, Jesus says that you have to give up everything.

And so a question: would you rather live poor or die rich? Although I have a solid streak of materialism running through my American veins, I don’t consider myself overly attached to stuff. Still, though, the thought of giving up everything is a little scary. Everything? All that I own? Really? I haven’t thought through this long enough to be sure, but instinctively I think it would be easier for me to die for my faith than to give up everything I have. What about you?

The real point, of course, is to ask ourselves what in our lives stands in the way of discipleship. In my culture, I’d guess that family isn’t as important as possessions. Maybe in another context Jesus’ words get easier as the passage moves along, but, in my world, the thought of owning nothing is terrifying. Doesn’t that suggest that giving it all up is exactly what we’re supposed to do? Counting the cost of discipleship isn’t about making a trade-off. In economics, we decide whether our limited resources should be spent on a diamond ring or a family vacation. But discipleship doesn’t work that way. There is no, “how much is this going to cost me?” There is no, “what else can I afford?” You don’t get to be a Christian if you’re asking yourself how much or how little you’ll have to give up. Discipleship costs everything.

Is there room for anything else? Maybe, but that can’t be part of the decision. Can I be a Christian and own a car? Maybe, but I have to be a Christian first and then figure it out. I have to be willing to hear Jesus telling me to give up everything, which is to say I can’t hold anything back. I’m not sure I counted that cost before I signed up, but maybe I’m supposed to spend every day coming to grips with it.

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