Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How Much More?

A common rhetorical device used by Jesus in his parables is to ask "How much more?" If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give good things to those who ask him? If a man was willing to sell all that he had to buy a field in which a treasure was buried, how much more should you be willing to give to inherit the kingdom of God? It's a fairly easy approach to grasp. Jesus outlines a circumstance we can all agree to, and then he stretches that understanding to include, by comparison, a larger teaching about God and God's kingdom.

But this Sunday the "how much more" doesn't come as good news.

As we've made our way through Luke, we've heard Jesus repeatedly speak of the uncompromising urgency of the kingdom. Whoever puts his hand to the plow is not fit for the kingdom (Luke 9). Carry no purse or bag or change of clothes or shoes (Luke 10). What does it mean to love you neighbor? Act like the good Samaritan (Luke 10). Martha, Martha, you are distracted by many things; only one thing is needful (Luke 10). When you pray, say, "...Your kingdom come" (Luke 11). You fool! This night your life is required of you (Luke 12). Blessed is the slave whom the master finds keeping watch when he comes at an unexpected hour (Luke 12). I have not come to bring peace but a sword (Luke 12). Should not this daughter of Abraham be set free from this bondage even on the sabbath day? (Luke 13). When you give a banquet, invite those who have no way of repaying you (Luke 14).

There've been other bits we've skipped over that reiterate this point even more strongly. Go back and read Luke 9-14 and notice how unrelenting Jesus' call to the kingdom is. By the time we get to this Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 14:25-33), it seems like Jesus is about ready to explode: "Whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." In effect, Jesus says, "I've been trying to make this point for some time now, but you all haven't been paying attention. Maybe this time you'll get it."

The parables that follow are a "how much more" approach to discipleship. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?...Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?" What's the implicit response? How much more, then, should you consider the cost of following me before you jump on this bandwagon?

But then Jesus turns away from the abstract, parabolic, at times hyperbolic approach and lays it right out plain and simple: "So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." It's the "so therefore" that really gets me. "What have I been saying to you all this time? It all means that you have to give up all of your possessions if you want to follow me--family, money, career, home, friends, religion, status, everything!

Tomorrow's post is going to be about possessions--what is Jesus really calling us to give up. Partly it's money, but that's only part of it. It means everything, possessions in the general sense. We must completely divest ourselves of ownership--even of our own lives. Like I said, that's for tomorrow, but for now I'm letting the "how much more" of counting the cost of discipleship settle in. I've got to understand that before I can do the math.

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