Pigs, Chickens, and Jesus’ Hardest Teaching

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Luke 14:25-33

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine

 

14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25-33, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Creator God, you form us on the wheel of life as a potter molds the clay. You shape us into holy vessels, and we bear the mark of your wise crafting, so we pray that we may remain strong and useful through years of faithful service in Christ’s name. Amen.

 

Whoa, this is a hard passage.  It just could be that hardest passage in the entire Bible.  We can try to explain it away all we want, but at the end of the day it is still scripture, the inspired Word of God, and we claim it as truth.  Today’s passage is about commitment, sacrifice and discipleship. What it means to follow Jesus.

 

I can use any number of analogizes to explain the difficult aspects of this text, so, if you heard this one before then you will have to forgive me.   A chicken laid an egg and the farmer harvested the egg and it was cracked open and cooked and eaten.  The Chicken was a committed partner to a breakfast meal.   Now think about the pig.   The pig…was more than a committed partner to a breakfast meal, the pig was all in, and you see he gave his life for a breakfast meal.  You see there is a huge difference in being committed and giving up everything.

 

Jesus tells his would-be disciples one of his hardest sayings about the high cost of following him.   Jesus says the cost of following him is great — in fact, it will cost everything we have.  Everything.[1]

 

It’s always helpful when studying a passage of scripture to put it in context, to read what comes before and what comes after it in the Bible.  We need some background.  What precedes this passage is a parable.  Jesus tells about someone who gave a great dinner and invited many guests.  But all of the invitees made excuses.  One could not come, he said, because he had purchased some property, and needed to check on it.  Another claimed that he had bought five yoke of oxen, and said he had to try them out.  Another said he had just gotten married, so he couldn’t attend.

 

A major point of that parable is about distraction, preoccupation, and people in the midst of the busyness of their lives.  It’s about people who put other things ahead of going to the dinner party.  Remember when Jesus talks about parties, dinners, and feasts he is using them as metaphors of the Kingdom of God.  The point of Jesus’ parable is crystal clear, to follow Jesus one must be focused.  The busyness of life cannot get in the way.

 

Then comes our text for the morning.  In the previous parable the host was having trouble getting the guests to come to his party, in this story it was the opposite; large crowds were traveling with him; so it appears that everyone wants to come.  But Jesus is not interested in growing his group simply for the sake of numbers.

 

So, he makes it very clear by using some very harsh images that following him is not going to be easy so he wants it easily understood that his followers must be all in.  He speaks about sacrifice, leaving family behind and counting the cost, and taking up the cross; his words are meant to underscore the seriousness of becoming a part of the Kingdom of God.

 

Which raises the question, does Jesus really mean what he is saying here?  Was he serious about this?  I mean, is Jesus using exaggeration to make a point? Like he does in other opportunities when he talked about “cutting off your hand,” and “gouging out your eye.”[2]   Does he really mean it?  I don’t think he literally means it literally, but he means it.   The word hate used here is a comparative word.  We occasionally use the word “hate” in the same way. “Would you rather have steamed broccoli or cooked cabbage?” “I hate cooked cabbage – I would rather have steamed broccoli.”[3]

 

Most likely, Jesus’ exaggeration to hate one’s own family is simply to stress the seriousness of following him.   In the first century, families were everything, so the implications of and challenge of Jesus’ words were huge.   Jesus wants followers who are singularly focused, who are not distracted by the busyness of daily life.  While Jesus call for followers may have been for individuals the effect of following him impacted the entire family and would take away from their responsibilities for the family business.  Following Jesus could be detrimental to the family’s well-being.   Remember that Jesus stressed that it is impossible to serve two masters.  So, Jesus is looking for serious followers who are dedicated and devoted to him.

 

So, yes, Jesus really means what he says.  “If it comes to a choice between me and your father and mother, or your wife and children, or between brothers and sisters, or even your own life unless you can choose me, you are not my disciple.”[4] Jesus words are hard words, they are harsh words but they are not about hating those whom you are called to love – instead they are about counting the cost of loving and following Jesus.  There is a price to be paid.

 

Jesus requires focused commitment and devotion to follow him all the way to the cross.   Consider this advice that we must count the cost before we commit.  Think about the commitments we have in our lives: if you are married you are committed to your spouse, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.  If you are a parent you are committed to your children, you would lay down your life for your child, do anything to help them succeed in life.  If you have a partner in business you are committed to the process, to the production, and to the profit.  If you are a sports fan you support your team, win, lose or tie you are committed to them.

 

Somehow the commitment Jesus invites us into seems different, more important, and yet harder to define.   Jesus is not inviting meaningless sacrifice.  He’s inviting us to believe in something greater than all those things that are often presented to us in our culture.  Jesus invites us to abundant life that is discovered only as you give yourself away.   Again, not that such sacrifices are easy.  We need to view this passage that Jesus isn’t trying to scare us off, instead he is seeking to awaken half-hearted followers to the reality of following him.”[5]  The choices we make, the relationships we decide to pursue, the way we spend this life we’ve been given.   The challenge, of course, is that choices are not always clear.   It is confusing about what is the right choice, the life-giving choice.

 

This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was getting at in his most well-known book, The Cost of Discipleship.” In it he identifies cheap grace.  The mainline church preaches God’s forgiveness of our sins so strongly that, if we’re not careful, we will begin to believe that it doesn’t matter how we live because God will forgive us, so why worry about doing the right thing?   As one skeptic put it, “God likes to forgive. I like to sin.   It’s a nice arrangement.”[6]

 

To this Bonhoeffer offered a resounding “No!”— both with his words and with his life.  Echoing Jesus in today’s Gospel, he called people to count the cost, to realize that accepting God’s grace also meant accepting a life of service and sacrifice.   Bonhoeffer left behind the security and safety of a teaching job in New York City, and returned to Germany to carry out a plot to assassinate Hitler.   The plot failed and Bonhoeffer was captured and put to death by hanging before his 40th birthday.  He left behind his family, friends and a fiancée.  He did not hate them —instead he believed in the cause of freedom more, he loved Christ and Christ’s world more.

 

The grace of God is not cheap grace.  It requires a response.  “One can only receive the grace of God with open hands, and to open those hands one must let go of all that would get in the way of receiving God’s grace.

 

Jesus has given his all for the world, he is not just committed no, and he is all in, heart, soul, body and life.  He gave his all and our response is to comprehend that his commitment to us requires our giving ourselves to him…

Let us pray:

[1] Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton, Commentary for Luke 14:25-33, https://lectionarylab.com

[2] Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton, Commentary for Luke 14:25-33, https://lectionarylab.com

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid

[5] The Reverend Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Lectionary Reflections on Luke 14:25-33 www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2010/08/counting-the-cost-luke-1425-33-lectionary-reflection-for-september-5-2010

[6] Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton, Commentary for Luke 14:25-33, https://lectionarylab.com

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