“Calculate the cost.” Last week we heard that Jesus had been at the house of one of the Pharisee leaders for dinner. After he saw those attending jockeying for the best and most honorable seats, he told them that the way of god’s kingdom was to lower oneself and go down the social, economic, and political ladder. Jesus told them that those who lifted themselves up in the world’s rat race would be lowered by god, while those who lowered themselves would be lifted up.
Jesus then told them that one of the ways they could do this was by inviting “the dirt-poor, the crippled, the disabled, and the blind” instead of “your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or wealthy neighbors” when you have a meal. Instead of trying to get repaid or to get what is most enjoyable or comfortable for yourself, Jesus wants us to live in such a way that we give of ourselves and wait for god to repay us when he raises our bodies from the dead to set all things right.
One of those there at that dinner party who was listening to Jesus then exclaimed, “Privileged is the one who will eat bread in the rule of god!” Hearing this, Jesus replied with a story—a story about a person who was hosting a great evening meal and who had invited many people to it. When the time for the great party came, the host sent a slave to proclaim to those invited, “Come! It is now ready!”
But the slave started getting turned down by all those invited, one after another. One said, “I traded for a field and I have need to go out and see it. I am requesting you, have me excused.” Another said, “I traded for five pairs of oxen and I am going to examine them. I am requesting you, have me excused.” These two turned down the feast and party because of business and food-production concerns. Their worry and fixation over making sure that they were expanding their assets and resources, had them decline the feast that was prepared for them. Then another said to the slave who was out to bring in the guests, “I got married and because of this I am not able to come.” This invited guest turned down the great feast because he had family obligations and needed to attend to his spouse.
Pretty good excuses, right? Business dealings, food production, family obligations. Who can fault these for turning down this great banquet, they had more important priorities than a silly party, right?
The slave, who was sent out to gather the guests, went and reported this to the host, who then became very angry. The host said to the slave, “Quickly, go out into the streets and alleys of the city and bring the dirt-poor, crippled, blind, and disabled in here!” Disillusioned by the excuses, busy-ness, and priorities of those who were esteemed in the world’s eyes, the host then decided to invite those on the bottom of the world, those who had no “life” that would fill their schedule and prevent them from coming. After doing this, the slave said, “Lord, what you ordered has happened and space is still available.” The host said to the slave, “Go out to the roads and fences and compel them to come in so that my house will be filled! For I say to you, none of those men who were invited will taste my evening meal!” The host even extended the invitation beyond those on the bottom of the world—it was extended to those that were so rejected by society that they couldn’t or wouldn’t live within the bounds of the city. If the wealthy, powerful, and self-important would not drop their agendas for this party, then they would be left out and the spots would be filled by the outcast and wretched.
This parable of Jesus challenges us to reflect on our own lives. Are we the ones in the parable who are too busy for what god is inviting us into? How consumed are we by our business dealings, our worry over our accomplishments and our futures, and our obligations to family? If god were to call us and invite us to his great banquet today would we turn him down because we have a lot of “very important” things going on? Or would we, like the poor, the disabled, the blind, and the outcasts, eagerly drop everything to be there?
As Jesus journeyed onward to Jerusalem with many crowds following him, he stopped, turned, and said to them, “If someone is coming to me and is not disowning her own father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, and then even her own life, she is not able to be my apprentice.” Aren’t Christians supposed love their families? Why on earth would Jesus want us to “disown” our parents, spouse, children, siblings, and even our very own self?
Have you ever heard a word from Jesus and immediately thought, “I can’t do that because my parents or siblings would never understand”—or, “my spouse would never let me do that”—or “I could never do that because I have a responsibility for my children” — or “I could never do that because it will ruin everything I have spent my life building”? How often has “protective duty” for a family member, spouse, child, or self been the reason we don’t love our enemies or show hospitality to a stranger? How often has “responsibility” for a family member, spouse, child, or self stopped us from following Jesus’ call to not worry about our lives or futures? If this is the case, then our family member, spouse, child, or self is stopping us from listening to Jesus. Jesus knows that these relationships are very real obstacles to our unquestioned obedience to his word. Therefore he says we must “disown” all of our family and our very self to follow him—meaning we must surrender any sense of control in these relationships and also surrender any loyalty to them that keeps us from obeying Jesus’ word.
Without even giving us much of a chance to let that soak in Jesus plows ahead. “Whoever is not carrying his own cross and coming behind me, is not able to be my apprentice.” Earlier in the gospel Jesus had called all those who would follow him to deny themselves and to pick up their own cross. Disowning our families? Picking up a tool for our own execution and capital punishment? Is this the party that Jesus is inviting us to? Not sure I like Jesus’ idea of a party…
But Jesus presses on relentlessly. “For which among you, wanting to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, if he has enough to finish? Otherwise, after putting down his foundation and not being able to complete everything, those watching will begin to mock him, saying, ‘This person began to build and is not able to complete it!’” We begin to see Jesus’ point more clearly. He wants us to “calculate the cost” of what we are getting into when we say we will follow him. Following Jesus is going to cost us all normal notions of “family loyalty”—it is going to cost us all of our dreams for our life—it is even going to entail the voluntary submission to persecution and execution at the hands of the state.
When my wife, Julie, and I were in the Dominican Republic we saw literally dozens of towers along the beach that had been started and were never finished. These skeleton buildings lined the landscape reminding us all that someone had started these grand projects, but then had abandoned them part way through because they didn’t have enough to finish. Do our lives as Christians look like unfinished and neglected towers? Do people look at our lives and see that we started following this Jesus from Nazareth, started putting his words into practice, but then stopped short? Do they see our lives and laugh at how we never carried through on what we started?
Jesus continues, “Or what ruler, coming together with another ruler for a war, does not, while sitting, deliberate whether he is powerful enough with ten thousand to confront the one with twenty thousand coming upon him? If not, he will surely send an ambassador and request the things for peace while still far away.” Have we as Christians started a battle of resistance to the greediness, violence, and selfishness all around us and have not had the energy or resources to carry it through to the end? Did we pick a fight against the world only to be exposed as not having the willpower to finish what we started—only to give in to the world once again and let it run our lives?
As if Jesus hadn’t already told us that following him was going to “cost” us enough, he concludes with a doozy, “Therefore, everyone from among you who does not say goodbye to all personal possessions is not able to be my apprentice.” Jesus had said earlier that we must “disown” all of our loved ones, including our very self, if we are to be his follower. He said we must also voluntarily take up the tool of our own persecution and execution. Finally he tells us that following him is going to cost us all private property and ownership. This does not mean we cannot “use” things, but it does mean that we cannot hold things for ourselves and must live reflecting the fact that the heavenly father owns everything.
Is what Jesus asks too much? Is the cost of being part of the banquet and feast he has invited us to, too much? He wants each and every one of us to stop and reflect on it. He even wants us to deliberately “calculate” it out. If we start following Jesus will we be willing and able to finish the course? Like stopping the building of a tower part way, are we going to abandon what Jesus is asking us to build when the going gets rough or when we no longer want to give up what he is asking? Will we be willing to give up family, dreams, and private property, and carry our cross to the very end?
God’s kingdom is coming into our world and he is pouring his spirit into us. God is preparing a banquet, feast, and party for you and me, and he is inviting us to it—he is even begging us to come. Will we be too consumed by our duties and responsibilities in the world to take him up on his invitation? Will we be willing to drop what is important to us to go? Jesus is calling us to “calculate the cost.” Do we value the banquet god is giving us—his presence, his love, his care, his justice, his peace, and ultimately his raising of our bodies—do we value that more than everything else in our lives? You have been invited to the great banquet of god’s new creation, are you willing and ready to drop everything in order to come? Amen.