Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
In our household, I’m in charge of our family budget. Because we have held roughly the same income and expenses for a while now, I can often make this work by taking the shortcut of simply estimating costs, spending according to our habits, and trusting that things will come out okay. However, when something major comes along, like a vacation, auto repair, or medical bills, I know it’s time to sit down with my spreadsheets and figure it out.
On a grander scale, my county is presently debating the merits of a proposed tax increase to fund the building of new schools. As a parent of three young children, this is of particular interest to me. As someone who is currently looking to buy a home in the county, it is of even greater interest, as I study the proposal documents to understand which schools are currently the most crowded and where the new schools will be.
Whether I’m the one writing or just reading them, budgets are key to most major decisions I make—financial and otherwise.
Although I doubt he used spreadsheets, Jesus seems to have in mind much the same thing in his teachings in the gospel lesson for this week. He asks,
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” (verse 29).
“Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (verse 31)
Do you want to follow Jesus? If so, Jesus says you need to have a plan. It seems reasonable enough. Count the costs, consider your resources, and make an informed decision.
The trouble is, Jesus has already told us the costs. The costs include our closest relationships—our family and friends (verses 25-26). The costs amount to all our possessions (verse 33). Or put more concisely, the cost—the end price of discipleship is the daily task of picking up our crosses and following Christ (verse 27; also Luke 9:23-26).
And so, if we sit down reasonably and tally the costs—as Jesus himself suggests that we do—the only reasonable decision is to choose not to follow Christ. At least from an economic standpoint. But that is where the spreadsheet fails.
Because following Christ is not a zero sum game. It is not a question of giving up X (family, friends, possessions) in order to get Y (prosperity, eternal life, etc.) in return, even though I have certainly heard more than one Stewardship campaign framed in this way. No, Jesus has something quite different in mind.
When Peter says, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you (Luke 18:28), Jesus reassures his disciples: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come” (18:29).
The rewards are not an either/or. It isn’t an experience of poverty in this life for wealth in the next life, or vice versa. Jesus doesn’t even say that the disciples will receive different or better families in return—he says they will receive more—those they have left behind and then some.
Jesus’ is a logic of abundance, not of scarcity. He demands that his disciples leave behind their families and their possessions, not as an exchange for something better, but as a prelude to something bigger—to the Kingdom to which Jesus promises those very same families are invited to be a part.
Discipleship isn’t about giving everything and everyone up to never see them again, any more than warfare is about sacrificing all 10,000 soldiers to win a war. Yes, of course, there will be losses along the way—losses that must be thoughtfully and carefully mourned. Counting the costs ahead of time, being aware of these risks, is part of any good budget or strategy plan. But the plan isn’t about the loss—the plan is about the end goal.
And in the case of discipleship, the end goal is God’s Kingdom—a kingdom into which mother and father, sister and brother, spouse and child, friend and stranger, are all invited together to live into what it means to be a people, a family of God. But families, too, are costly. They require support and compassion, and sometimes infrastructure and investment. Are we willing to shoulder the cost? Are we willing to invest in God’s Kingdom? These are the questions Jesus invites us to weigh, both as we stand before the altar and the voting booth. Discipleship is costly indeed.
The Rev. Dr. Amy Lindeman Allen is Co-Lead Pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, NV. She holds her PhD from Vanderbilt University in New Testament and Early Christianity.