What is the cost of discipleship? In this teaching from Luke, to which two short parables are attached, Jesus spares no words to challenge his disciples to give of themselves to the utmost.
But first, a word about the two parables – which are really two simple metaphors.
Before launching on any major project, says Jesus, a wise man sits down and counts the cost, and weighs the alternatives. If a man wants to build a tower, or if a king wants to engage in battle, both will ponder over what he is about to do before taking the first step. If this is so about mundane things, says Jesus, why not about the most important thing you have, your very own life?
To be my disciple is not a half-hearted affair, he says. It demands the total renunciation of all that one holds dear, specially ties of family. Jesus demands that his disciples “hate”, that is, “put completely aside” — the love of parents, siblings, spouses, children. Nay, one should also “hate one’s own life too”, that is, sacrifice all personal ambition and prosperity for the sake of discipleship.
The comparison here is “carrying one’s cross and coming with me”. No metaphor could be more frightening. To be put to death on a cross was a most shameful punishment, something reserved for slaves and prisoners of war. To carry one’s cross to the site of crucifixion was a journey of shame and humiliation. I myself will be put to death like this, and you, my disciple should expect no less.
Luke emphasizes this teaching on discipleship in all its force. At various times in the Gospel, Jesus insists that his followers give up wealth and renounce their family. He was only too aware how subtly the love of family and property can deflect us from our goals. To these two demands Luke adds yet another stringent condition: embrace humiliation and suffering – “the cross” – for my sake, says Jesus, even as I do so for yours.