I gave up sweets for Lent this year. In the midst of a sugar-deprived grouch-fest, I was reminded of a section in Donald Kraybill’s The Upside-Down Kingdom, titled “Expensive Decisions.” This is a required text for my class, and while most students don’t read it, those that do are struck by Kraybill’s understanding of discipleship.
In this section, Kraybill comments that authentic discipleship is expensive. He’s not talking about extravagance or luxury, but about risk; following Jesus is a risky endeavor. Kraybill states that as disciples, we’re called to embrace and live out God’s redemptive plan, which runs counter to the materialism, consumerism, and individualism rampant in our culture. Living our lives against this political, economic, and social grain will attract heat from the people, systems, and governments in our world. As Christ-followers, our countercultural decisions will cost us. *
Thus, when Jesus says to count the cost of being a disciple, he’s not talking about boycotting Cadbury Mini Eggs for 40 days.
In Luke 14.28-30, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die. Opposition is mounting; Jesus’ crucifixion, imminent. The journey to Jerusalem begun in Luke 9 isn’t a travel log of cool places Jesus visits on his way to the Holy City. Rather, the trek is a leitmotif for the journey of discipleship.** Until now, the disciples have experienced low-level conflict with the religious leaders; they’ve successfully (and unsuccessfully) cast out demons and healed the sick; they’ve responded with varying levels of belief and doubt to Jesus’ miracles; and they’ve experienced mild epiphanies regarding Jesus’ identity. At this point in the Gospel, as Jesus walks to his death, he again asks the disciples if they understand what it’s going to take to follow him. Jesus is effectively asking, “Do you know what you’ve signed up for? I’m going to the cross, are you coming with me?” If not, you may want to sit this one out.
Jesus illustrates his point through one of his shortest parables. In 14.28-30, a builder sits down, evaluates the task (constructing a tower), and assesses the cash flow needed to successfully complete his project. The builder doesn’t scrimp, save, and cut corners to make it happen. The goal isn’t to eke out enough, but, as we find out from verse 33, it’s to invest everything.
This call to invest everything by giving up everything, isn’t a one-time thing. The Greek verb, ἀποτάσσω, meaning “to take leave of,” or “bid farewell to,” is in the present tense. Giving everything isn’t something we did once when first becoming disciples, but something we’re continuously doing.
In this text, and in our own lives, following Jesus means a willingness to follow him to his death. We’re not to flippantly engage in discipleship as if we’re signing up for a gym membership, which sounds like a good idea, but which we never intend to use. Nor are we to haphazardly embark on it as if we’re remodeling our kitchen without consulting our finances.
Additionally, it means recognizing that demands accompany discipleship. Like the disciples, it means bidding farewell to people, places, and things, as we journey with Jesus. Whether it be our time, talents, habits, money, jobs, homes, or personal ambitions, in order to successfully complete our mission, we’re called to make expensive decisions, and willingly incur the cost that they bring.
Yet, most importantly, it means that if we’re willing to invest everything, if we’re willing to give all we have, we’ll have everything we need to invest in, and build, God’s Kingdom.
*Kraybill, Donald. The Upside-Down Kingdom, 5th Edition (pp. 247-250). Herald Press, 2011.
**Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke (NICNT). Eerdmans, 1997.