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Bible question for Christians - the cost of being a disciple

(21 Posts)
EdithSimcox Thu 02-Jun-16 22:16:11

Luke 14:25-35
I don't understand! Not the first tricky passage or the last I'm sure, but it's the one that's bothering me today... the bit about the king going to war, and then salt losing its saltiness... Any thoughts?

niminypiminy Fri 03-Jun-16 21:45:34

One of the things that makes Jesus's parables so endlessly fascinating (well, to me anyway!) is their paradoxical, riddling character. They so often seem enigmatic, or contrary to common sense. Sometimes you have to look at larger patterns, sometimes you have to think about the way Jesus is turning expectations upside down.

I think these verses point in different directions. The parable of the king seems to me to be pointing to the weightiness of the decision to become one of the disciples. Do you really know what you're letting yourself in for, Jesus seems to be asking, have you really counted the cost in advance? In the context of the gospels' first readers this is a salutary warning - it was dangerous to be a disciple. But for those listening to Jesus, too - did those crowds want easy answers, quick-fix solutions. One of the reasons the parables are enigmatic is because Jesus stresses time and time again that his answers aren't the obvious ones, and that following him and committing yourself to the kingdom of heaven means turning your whole life upside down. Love without reservation! Give everything away! Follow God recklessly and completely! Count up your army and see that it's half the size of your opponent's - and then go into battle anyway.

The saying about salt needs to be read with the occurrence of this saying in Matthew, where Jesus addresses his disciples saying 'you are the salt of the earth, if salt loses its saltiness... etc'. Salt was so precious in those times, Roman soldiers were paid in salt (the root of our word salary). Salt preserved food and kept it from going bad, salt was an antiseptic, healing wounds, salt was a prized flavouring, it was expensive and valuable. Throwing salt on a manure heap would be unthinkable - especially as if you put salt on soil it makes it unable to grow things. So for the disciples to lose their saltiness is losing all their virtue - their goodness, the qualities that they give to the world. It would be like them losing their human-ness, their special quality as a person that is known and loved by God - because for salt to lose its saltiness would be for it to lose its virtue, the thing that makes it what it is.

The disciples are the salt of the earth because the world needs them - this makes me think of the folktale Cap o' Rushes (one of the sources of Shakespeare's King Lear) in which a king asks his daughter 'how much do you love me?' and she answers 'as much as meat loves salt'. The disciples are the salt of the earth, but if they turn back from what they have set out on, the path of the cross, they will lose their saltiness. It's a promise about what it means to be a disciple, and also a frank setting out of the costs - both to discipleship and then to turning back from it.

So this is a particularly riddling passage - my commentary doesn't do very well with it at all! - and I'm sure there are other ways to read it. This is where I've got to, and I hope it makes some sense to others.

EdithSimcox Sat 04-Jun-16 06:41:49

That's helpful Niminy thank you. The commentary I read makes a lot less sense! The passage as a whole says you need to follow Jesus first and foremost or you may as well not bother, right? I think I'd always put my DC first though (not sure in what circumstances one would ever have to choose, but hypothetically I mean).

niminypiminy Sat 04-Jun-16 10:06:56

Hm, yes and no. So much of what Jesus says about discipleship is crazy talk - leave the dead unburied, give away everything you own, walk away from your family, forgive seventy times seven, go two miles instead of one, love those who hate you. Are we meant to take all of those absolutely literally? I don't think so.

I think it's about the stance we should take rather than a series of instructions. Jesus moves us beyond the world of calculation - beyond the kind of rational calculus of the 'do good to others so that they do good to you' version of the golden rule. Instead Jesus's asks us to love without limit, give without reservation, follow without holding back, serve without resentment. These things are bloody hard to do, and of course anyone who isn't Jesus (ie all of us) fall short. But that's the ideal.

I don't think that means not putting your DC first (if it does then I won't even get out of the starting blocks). I think it means having as your ideal a kind of recklessness - giving up calculating - in order to love, give, follow, serve with everything that you have. The prayer of St Ignatius puts it like this:

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.


And of course we will fall short of that - every day. I fall short of even asking for it and I fall short of meaning it. But if I can't mean it, I can want to mean it, and if I can't want to mean it, I can want to want to mean it.

SpinnakerInTheEther Sat 04-Jun-16 10:29:04

I think putting God before your children (or anyone else) is just a matter of having things balanced in your mind. Children should not be worshipped, they are learning and get things wrong. When they get things wrong we have to forgive and correct them - this is putting God first, as I understand things.

EdithSimcox Sat 04-Jun-16 17:46:07

Niminy, you always make me feel better when I'm tying myself up in knots smile

EdithSimcox Sun 05-Jun-16 20:49:10

But then again it does feel like the most enormous burden doesn't it?

I read today that at the end of each day, Muhammed Ali asked himself, “If God were to judge me based just on what I did today, would I go to heaven or hell?”

And, as you say, most days I fall so far short it makes me despair.

EdithSimcox Sun 05-Jun-16 21:02:13

To clarify, not that I'm worried about heaven or hell per se, just the feeling of utter inadequacy, flailing around looking for answers.

lougle Sun 05-Jun-16 21:11:27

Don't despair! You can't possibly meet the standard. Ever. There won't be a single day when you do, and if there is a day that you do, let me know and I'll let you know that you've succumbed to the sin of pride wink

The whole reason for Christ's sacrifice is that we can't meet the standard in our own strength. We are inherently sinful (Adam/Eve fall from grace) and deserve eternal punishment, but Good sacrificed His only Son so that we may have Eternal Life through His GRACE (God's Riches at Christ's Expense).

I agree that the parables are meant to impress on us the great importance of our decision to follow Him. We are God's only plan of Salvation for the world-there is no plan B. If we don't live the life He sets out for us, being the example of Him that wins souls to His Kingdom, then people die without knowing Him.

niminypiminy Mon 06-Jun-16 09:40:55

Edith, I don't have quite the same view as Lougle about eternal punishment and what Christ accomplished on the cross. But more the the point, I agree that you shouldn't despair!

I see what you say about the burden of falling short. But if Christianity is about anything it is about hope - hope that God will draw all things to himself and will make all things new, and that his purposes can't ultimately be frustrated no matter how much we mess up. And we too will be made new - completely ourselves but more, better, truer, realer versions of ourselves. And forgiveness - setting our falling-short behind us as we turn ourselves back again towards him - isn't a once-only thing, but an offer that is always open, God's wide-open arms always ready to welcome and love us. What matters to God, in a sense, is not that we fail, but that we turn back.

It's important to remember, I think, that Islam has a different idea about judgement from Christianity - there is (as I understand it) a reckoning of good against bad, while God always wants us to do good, is always compassionate. As I understand it Islam doesn't have the concept of at-one-ment, of being brought back to God, that in Christianity is what Christ accomplishes on the cross. So Muhammad Ali's question to himself might look different if asked by a Christian. Perhaps it might become 'where did I fail today? and where, with the help of God, might I do differently tomorrow?'.

And Jesus's message was always against despair, and against the sense that it's all a huge burden, something that we can never accomplish. His way is the way of the cross, but it is also a light burden - because he is always walking that way with us, and is always sharing our burden with us, and because he shared all the mess and pain and glory of human life in order to bring us messy, painful glorious humans close to God.

EdithSimcox Mon 06-Jun-16 21:25:46

Thank you. Again.

pearlylum Tue 07-Jun-16 06:36:29

It must be terrible to live every day knowing that you don't make the mark, are not quite good enough, and are inherently sinful.

I wouldn't allow anyone to judge me like this. Making yourself weak in order to be herded like a sheep.

printmeanicephoto Tue 07-Jun-16 18:24:25

Pearl - that is just being human though. Being unconditionally loved by God despite our sinful nature is actually for me a great joy.

I'm not a sheep though in the stupid, blindly following sense. I see myself as strong - being a Christian means I often go against the crowd as Christianity is counter-cultural.

pearlylum Tue 07-Jun-16 19:34:31

You may have a sinful nature- I don't.

God really doesn't unconditionally love. If he did he wouldn't expect you to accept jesus as your saviour in order to get a ticket to heaven.
He would let everyone in, regardless of whether you had faith or not.

printmeanicephoto Tue 07-Jun-16 19:47:15

Well done for being perfect Pearl ;) I believe he loves us unconditionally AND he gives us a choice. The two can co-exist.

lougle Tue 07-Jun-16 19:55:46

I think we read different Bibles pearlylum. The one I read days that we were all born with a sinful nature.

And no, it's not terrible - it's liberating. There is nothing I can do that is worse than has already been done. He loves me just the way I am.

pearlylum Tue 07-Jun-16 19:56:27

Unlike you I am not striving for perfection.

If gods loves us unconditionally then we don't need to have faith for redemption.. er except we do.

I can't see how the two can co- exist at all. Either he loves us all and we all get through the pearly gates, or he doesn't.

lougle Tue 07-Jun-16 20:06:23

I think you're confusing yourself smile I don't strive for perfection - I can't attain it. I want to be as kind and honest and generous and caring and gentle and loving, etc., as I can be, because I love Jesus and I want to be be like Him as much as I can.

AlanPacino Tue 07-Jun-16 21:40:13

Christianity is counter-cultural.

I bet you can't name one 'counter cultural' element that is particular to christians and that isn't found throughout the general population. There are, indeed, many counter cultural attitudes within the church that are certainly nothing to feel pleased about.

OutwiththeOutCrowd Wed 08-Jun-16 21:25:05

Edith, I hope you don’t mind the two bits worth of an interested heathen who likes to search for patterns!

Just to concentrate on the first part (Luke 14:26):

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

I think that the somewhat overblown language used in this passage could be rationalized in two ways. Firstly, Jesus is availing himself of rabbinic hyperbole to make an impact on the crowd. He knows the love that most accord their families and asks that a love even greater than that be imagined such that familial love seems, in comparison, like hate. Secondly, there is in the air the notion that a time of conflict and judgment is imminent - a time in which family member will be pitted against family member - and the message must be understood in that specific context.

The words also call to mind a description of the anticipated period of discord presented earlier in the same gospel (Luke 12:53). This in turn harks back to the Blessing of Levi (Deuteronomy 33:9) within the Blessing of Moses in the OT where it is said of the Levite that he

said of his father and mother,
‘I regard them not’;
he disowned his brothers
and ignored his children.
For they <the Levites> observed your word
and kept your covenant.

This passage refers to the ‘mini’ day of reckoning in the time of Moses when the Israelites were asked to choose between God and idolatry. The Levites alone were faithful to God and turned against their idolatrous kinsmen to demonstrate that their loyalty to God took precedence over human ties.

In short, then, it seems to me that in the original passage (Luke 14:26) Jesus is telling people in heightened language how they should behave in desperate times and is making oblique reference to the OT story because he fully expects a similar but larger-scale time of reckoning to come soon.

Elsewhere, in contrast, Jesus refers to the commandment honour your father and your mother. (And, by presumable extension, take care of the rest of the family too.) So he is still endorsing this less crazy family-friendly commandment for normal circumstances. Indeed, he declares his distaste for people who opt to put religion before family in a superficial self-serving way that absolves them in their own minds from familial duties (Matthew 15: 3-6).

So, Edith, I think you should feel free to adopt the default peacetime mode of cherishing and supporting your family … at least until the apocalypse!

(Caveat: an outsider’s rambling musings/thesis – please excuse any inaccuracies.)

EdithSimcox Fri 10-Jun-16 17:47:39

Thank you outwith. Of course I don't mind, and I always find what you say interesting. I definitely hadn't clocked the connections you make - but then I'm definitely playing catch-up on the Bible study.

Don't worry about my parenting commitment though - the DC come first whether I can square the circles or not. smile

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