Jesus is scary this week. We catch up with him and a large crowd walking along the road. He’s on his final trip to Jerusalem. His death is drawing near. He suddenly stops and begins throwing out one brutal challenge after another. Just look at them! “If anyone come to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We have to hate the people closest to us if we hope to be his disciple!? He must be speaking in hyperbole!
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” We know what the cross was all about. It was the worst form of Roman execution. It involved brutal scourging, nailing a person to a cross beam and hanging them from it until they died. This form of execution, always staged in busy public areas, could take days to complete. The crowd would have been shocked by Jesus’ call to hate their family, but would probably have taken it as exaggeration. This proclamation that the disciple must even be willing to submit to crucifixion must have sent chills into every person listening to him. Even if he were exaggerating, this statement was terrifying.
To break the tension, he went on to spin two short parables that stressed the need to think seriously before taking on a commitment. He then concluded his teaching with one final zinger. “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions he cannot be my disciple.”
Let’s move beyond the exaggeration, and listen with open mind and heart to Jesus’ teaching.
He’s warning us that our commitment to him will require even more love than we have for our father, mother, wife and children, sisters and brothers.
He’s telling us that following him will not be one grand picnic because the cross casts its shadow far and wide. Think of the Christians crucified by ISIS. Think of the Christians in Nigeria threatened with forced conversion. Think of the Christians in India, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Cameroon and so many other places throughout the world who live with the daily threat of violence because of their faith.
American Christians may feel safe from violence. We may feel safe because we’re financially secure. But “security” can be a challenge to true discipleship because it can make us complacent.
Jesus is all love, peace and harmony. But he’s scary, too. He’s challenging us. He’s leading us to the narrow gate. Today, let’s ask ourselves a serious question. Are we courageous enough to follow him down that road?