“Do or Do Not. There is No Try”
September 4, 2022
Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 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? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Underway across the USA is a $100 million media campaign titled “He is Us.” Its aim is to attract people who are skeptical about Christianity, yet may relate to Jesus by highlighting his upbringing as a homeless, bullied son of a teenage mother and how he responded to the struggles. The hoped for response is that people will learn more about Jesus and model their lives after his example of radical love for all. “He is Us” as its foundational theme playsout in a variety of promotions informing people that Jesus gets us, he gets our worries, issues, and problems, and his teachings can help us face these experiences in our lives.
Launched in March, the campaign is the initiative of a Kansas-based Christian foundation that is channeling millions in funding from what it describes as “like-minded families who desire to see the Jesus of the Bible represented in today’s culture with the same relevance and impact He had 2000 years ago.”
A spokesperson for the campaign says the aim is “not about recruiting or converting,” but rather to “raise the respect and personal relevancy of Jesus.”
I think those who conceived the “He Gets Us” campaign never read Luke 14:25–33. It is apparent that their effort is not about discipleship.
The lectionary presents us a challenging passage today. Few preachers want to stand in front of people and tackle this text. But it does have value today for Christians, though it will not arouse an enthusiastic “Amen” or many “Likes” on digital outlets from online worshipers. To get into considering what is going with this passage, some context and review is essential.
First, the context. Luke’s central message in telling the story of Jesus is this: God’s mercy, in the person of Jesus Christ, is offered to all without exception. God’s gracious gift in Jesus calls forth a response of mercy for the sake of our neighbor and extending the new order of God’s way in the world. This is the definition of discipleship.
We know God’s grace and mercy evokes a “feel-good” response (picture endless GIFs of cute puppies and infants taking their first steps). But discipleship, the following of Jesus also involves carrying the cross, risk and cost. That is the heart of this text today.
Secondly, Luke has been telling us of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem for the past six chapters. On the way he has been teaching and healing, showing forth the ways of God’s power for life amidst the oppressive, life-defeating power of the Roman empire. Repeatedly, Jesus seeks to get his disciples to understand what following him will entail and what costs it will enact.
In this passage today, crowds surround Jesus. Word of his power — his miraculous deeds have gone “viral.” The crowds are yearning for someone to mobilize the beleaguered in order to begin the counter-insurgence upon Roman despotism. Whispers of hope and the dreams of the “good ol’ days” fill the air and energize the crowd. Jesus’ popularity was making it easy to follow him on his way to the seat of Roman power in Jerusalem because the crowds were certain it was going to be of benefit to them.
Today’s passage must have stopped people in their tracks. Jesus makes clear that following him, becoming a disciple enacts a cost. It costs us of the belief that our lives are our own — that Christian faith is a low-cost, low-risk endeavor.
In this passage, Jesus starts with two sayings indicating that discipleship requires absolute allegiance. Subjecting familial relations and carrying the cross relativize the things of this life that are secondary to Jesus’ call to follow.
Next, he tells two brief stories to illustrate the importance of “estimating the cost” of becoming a disciple. From building a tower to waging a war, Jesus makes clear that both activities require great deal of money, planning and people. He asks, “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?” and “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?” The focus of these stories is on the disciples. In a way, Jesus asks them “If you follow me, do you have what it takes to complete your mission?” For Jesus, disciples must be all in, committed to the project of Jesus’ mission.
You see, Jesus needs to know whether he has the builders and the soldiers committed to completing the tasks to build the kingdom of God and defend it. The kingdom is an exercise in construction but also a battle waged against the forces of evil. For Jesus on his way to Jerusalem to face enormous consequences, to move forth the kingdom he needs steadfast disciples; for the battle to be waged successfully, he needs committed disciples.
This summer, the phrase “quiet quitting” has taken the media world by storm. The trend, which was named by a Gen Z (those born 1981 to 1996) emerged from a viral TikTok video.
Quiet quitting means ceasing to go above and beyond in one’s job. Quiet quitters fulfill basic employment requirements, but they do not seek out extra responsibilities, and they do not look to their jobs for their “passion” or otherwise define themselves by their paid work. Some Quiet quitters may be biding their time until they can actually quit their jobs, or they may simply be adjusting their relationship to their work to one they consider more sustainable.
The quiet-quitting concept in terms of living this Christian life and calling challenges us to consider how we fulfill our roles as disciples: enough to get by, enough to look the part, but never above and beyond. There is no clearer passage in all the scriptures than this one with Jesus issuing a challenge regarding the requirements of discipleship. Disciples have to be all in; there can be no quiet quitters. To invoke the ubiquitous pop-culture aphorism from Yoda, “Do or do not; there is no try.”
What this looks like for each person will be something different, something apart from what one has planned. But Jesus makes clear, all followers must remain at the disposal of God’s plan, not our own.