Preparing for a Road Trip with Jesus
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. None of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple. —Luke 14:25-27, 33b
You remember when Jesus said, “If you act up one more time, I’m pulling this car over!”? Yeah, me neither, and that’s why it catches us off guard when Jesus suddenly jerks the car off the road, screeches to a stop on the shoulder, stretches his right arm across the back of the passenger seat, and turns around to give us an ultimatum. “You can’t keep following me if you keep acting like this! You’ve gotta let go of all that easy, familiar stuff that keeps you in an unchallenged frame of mind and unchallenging way of living if you want to stay on this road trip with me. So, think about it for a sec and either buckle up or get out.” Being the child of parents who frequently pulled the car over, that is what this scripture sounds like to me.
But the large crowds traveling with Jesus haven’t acted up, at least not to their knowledge. So, the suddenness of Jesus turning to them with a confrontational charge is more of a warning than an ultimatum. They will act up in ways that compromise Jesus’ gospel message, and even if they stay true to their discipleship with Jesus, that faithfulness will put their life at risk. Jesus knows this, and he wants to make that clear before he puts the car back in drive.
It would seem that Jesus is telling the crowds following him that they need to “count the costs of discipleship,” as this passage is often interpreted, before committing to going any further. But how can one count the costs down to the last detail of something they have no clear idea that they are getting into? Yes, following Jesus is an invitation to new life, but, keeping with the metaphor here, it’s like this stranger from Nazareth has pulled up next to us when we’re on the run from all of life’s stressful burdens, thrown open the passenger door, and said, “Get in if you want to live.” Ok, but where are you taking me? In short, counting the costs is a wise human practice that any Boy Scout would stand behind. “Be prepared!” But even the most extensive planning cannot prepare us for the unforeseen. Jesus might sound like a fed up parent, but he’s really being a faithful shepherd inviting us to follow him on a journey into a liberated unknown.
Those miscellaneous, unforeseen factors that none of us can fully calculate let alone prepare for are the essence of discipleship with Jesus. He invites us to follow him into a mystery. We cannot fully prepare for that. Yet, we try. We nail down a life of faith by reducing it to dogmas and doctrines, certainties born from fundamentalism and legalism, all of which put God and neighbor into boxes that reduce abundance and elevate judgment. There’s nothing mysterious about that. That is not of the realm of God. Jesus knows our tendency to over-prepare to the detriment of relationship and the communal salvation that comes with it. So, he lays down a liberating warning: “None of you who are unwilling to give up all your possessions can be my disciple.”
When Jesus uses the examples of family and one’s own life, I hear him talking about possessions that are beyond my control. My son and my daughter are my children, and my partner is my spouse, but I don’t own them. They are not my possessions in that sense. My life is mine, but I don’t own it. It’s not my possession in that sense. Still, family and one’s own life can be my possessions, because they can possess me with a temptation to obsess over perfection, to obsess over controlling my family and my own life.
As was mentioned in the sermon on September 4, titled, “I Hate Perfection,” we can love family without idolizing it: “The idolatry of family, the idealized family, the Norman Rockwell painting of a heteronormative family, is what causes parents to reject their child for being gay or trans, or for marrying someone of the same gender, instead of loving their child. Just as Jesus says, ‘Whoever loses their life for my sake will gain it,’ whoever rejects and renounces and lets go of our culture’s obsession with an ideal family will gain a true family, because true disciples take idols off pedestals.”
Jesus invites us to relinquish our desire for control in order to let go of those possessions. Only then can we be set free to follow him into the mystery of God, for it’s in that mystery that we discover more and more of our true personhood, our true calling in this life, and the source of our greatest fulfillment: the love of God that will never let us go; the love of God in whose image we imperfect beings are perfectly made. So, leave your possessions on the shoulder, buckle up, and let’s get this car back on the road.