Criteria of Cost
"Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
September 2, 2022, Words By: Jenna Smith, Image By: Julienne Alviar
When I was a teenager there were perhaps no words from Jesus that I found more troubling than those on the concept of biological family. The story in Mark 3 for instance, when Mary and Jesus’ brothers were lingering outside and he uttered famously, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Or again, in Matthew 10 when he states, “Brothers will turn against their own brothers and hand them over to be killed. Fathers will hand over their own children to be killed. Children will fight against their own parents and will have them killed. Everyone will hate you because you follow me.”
As a teenager raised in a church that centered the nuclear and biological family as a cornerstone of the faith, these stories were enigmatic at best and troublesome at worst. However, being a teenager seeking independence I was more than a little attracted to the idea of redefining what one’s own family actually means.
This week’s lectionary reading again indulges in somewhat aggressive language around distancing oneself with biological family in the name of affinity with Christ, “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.”
At this point, Jesus is becoming increasingly popular. The text says that “large crowds were now traveling with (Him). Jesus seems to be issuing a warning to this growing following, but why now when everything seems to be going so well? Maybe we can rationalize his meaning through this lens: my message and miracles might be seductive, but have you actually considered the cost of being my disciple?
As a person who errs on the side of inclusivity, I wince at the warning nature of this passage. I would rather ensure every person who so desires gets a seat at the table, and we’ll put off discussing the cost at a much later date (and hopefully, someone else will be the messenger in that uncomfortable conversation). However, if I am honest with myself, I have experienced moments of sacrifice and disfavor that very much fulfill Jesus’ promise of his more unpleasant warnings within the Gospel stories. I have had to confront my own ego, self-righteousness, and agenda on more than one occasion. There has been a cost.
Coming back to my teenage angst about hating one’s family (youth pastors, please help your kids understand hyperbole as a literary genre!), let us consider some further implications of Jesus’ criteria of cost: the cost of discipleship is a deep equalizer. In Christ’s Kingdom, family name, tribal connections, status and bonds will not advantage you. The wealthiest patriarch and the poorest orphan alike are invited onto this road and both must consider the cost. The expert architect who can build the highest tower, the king and general who could win the war, these makers-of-society too are invited, but must consent to the cost.
As with teenagers seeking to claim their individuality, it is so very easy for us to bring in our own tribal claims, our political priorities, our perceived higher virtues into the kingdom of discipleship. Again and again, Jesus’ words have layers of meaning: you cannot bring your party’s agenda or your status to this journey. May we all consider this cost, but also, the generosity and grace of this invitation.
Dwelling Among Us
Do Jesus’ words, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” ring true to you, or have they rung true in the past? What concrete examples come to mind? What tribal claims are you being required to leave behind on Christ’s road of discipleship?