There is a big difference between people who are spectators at a sporting event and those who are committed followers of a team. Spectators might show some interest, keep track of how their team is going, and might go to watch them if the weather is fine and there’s nothing more important happening. However, committed followers will pay to be members of their club, purchase their season ticket, attend every game no matter what the weather might be like or what else is going on, and will be willing to even travel interstate for their team. Committed followers will make their team their highest priority and will pay any cost out of love for their club.
Imagine that you were part of the crowd of people who were following Jesus in this reading from Luke. Maybe you had heard about Jesus and some of the miraculous things he had been doing. You come out to see what the fuss is about and see Jesus heal a man, challenge the teachings of the Pharisees, and then start talking about a free banquet that will never end. Curious to see what Jesus will do next, you join the large crowd of people who are following him and start traveling around the countryside.
Then Jesus turns around, faces us all and tells us that we will need to hate our families and take up our crosses if we want to be his disciples. What do you do? Do you continue to follow him, knowing that it could cost you everything that is important to you? Or do you decide that this is way too hard, and go back to your regular life?
In saying these words, Jesus wants to sort out the spectators from the committed followers. Jesus never tried to be popular or to get people to like him. Instead, he let people know exactly where his path was going– to Jerusalem where he was going to suffer and die on the cross. He has already warned his disciples that students are not above their teacher (Luke 6:40) so if they are going to follow him, they can also expect to suffer like him. Jesus wants his disciples to know what they are getting themselves into so that when it starts to cost them they won’t turn around and say that Jesus never warned them.
It is important to remember, however, that it those who were willing to commit to follow Jesus along the path of suffering and the cross were the ones who witnessed God’s grace and love in the cross of Jesus. The spectators who turned away from Jesus missed seeing how enormous and life-changing his love really is because they never witnessed the power of his self-sacrificing love on the cross. The committed followers of Jesus not only witnessed him giving up everything for them on the cross, they also witnessed the power of this love that is stronger than death in their own lives in his resurrection.
This story places us in the same situation as the people who originally heard Jesus’ words. He speaks to us across the centuries to ask whether we are spectators or committed followers. Are we willing to risk everything by picking up our own crosses and following Jesus by living in the way of self-giving, sacrificial love for others? Are we willing to offer everything we have to God by living for the people around us, especially those who deserve grace the least but need it the most, in the same way that Jesus has for us? When it comes to our faith, are we spectators who might turn up to Jesus if it’s convenient and the conditions suit us? Or are we committed followers who are prepared to go to any length, pay any price, travel any distance for the sake of the man who is our number one priority?
When we commit to follow Jesus by living in self-giving, sacrificial ways, we more fully encounter his love and grace in a couple of ways. When we learn what it is like to suffer for the sake of others in small ways, Jesus’ suffering for us can become even greater as we identify with what he went through for us. When we fail to live for others and default back to living for ourselves, we can grow in our appreciation for what Jesus did for us as we realize how hard it is for us to live like Jesus calls us to live. This is grace: that God does for us in Jesus what we can’t do for ourselves. We can embark on the path of self-giving, sacrificial, Christ-like love for others because whether we succeed or fail, our understanding can grow of how wide, long, high and deep God’s love for us in Jesus really is.
Sometimes I wonder what the church would be like if we were as committed to following Jesus as a lot of football supporters are to following their team. Jesus doesn’t sugar-coat what it means to be his followers. It will cost us, and sometimes that cost will hurt. However, the promise Jesus gives us through this text is that when we commit to follow him, ultimately he leads us to the cross and empty tomb where we witness God’s perfect and infinite love for us, a love that is even stronger than death. Jesus doesn’t want us to be spectators. He call us to follow him in the way of the cross. When we commit to follow Jesus by living in self-giving, sacrificial love for others, growing in his grace along the way will be worth it.
More to think about:
- Put yourself in the crowd of people in this story. What would your reaction have been to what Jesus said? Would you have continued to follow him? Or would you have gone home? Why would you have reacted that way?
- What is something that you are committed to in your life?
- What would your life look like if you were that committed to following Jesus in the way of self-giving, sacrificial love for others?
- How might following Jesus in the way of self-giving, sacrificial love for others give you a greater understanding and a stronger faith in the love Jesus displays for us on the cross?
- Would that make the cost of following Jesus worthwhile for you? Why/why not?