Jesus never lets people adjust. The minute he perceives them in some kind of equilibrium, or a state where they think they’re starting to catch on, he  makes sure he hits them with a truck.

Large crowds were traveling with him. Even on his way to Jerusalem to die, the crowds are swarming around him. He’s not doing nearly as many miracles (hardly any at all), and his teaching has become very heavy (as have his shoulders, no doubt). This is no time for repose, so Jesus turns the wheel of his truck, and…

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” He gets large crowds following him, and what does he say? In the language of exaggerated contrast (it can’t be literal, or he’s contradicting the 10 commandments) he sets a bar for them. There is a common misunderstanding out there that all we have to do be fairly good people and we get to heaven. Jesus again and again takes every step necessary to destroy the vicious lie.

But why “hate your parents”? Too many adolescents would be more than pleased to comply. Think of it this way: In John 6, Jesus didn’t expect them to eat him. He didn’t expect them to pluck out their eye, or to give away all that they had to the poor. The Bible commands us to honor our parents and love our wives. So we have to take this in a spiritualized sense, just as those other texts. But then why use the word “hate”? Because it brings an unparalleled emotional punch and intellectual shock to make you hear it and think about what he is saying. It’s a strong word, bound to cause misunderstandings, but you have to know Jesus. His point is clear: If you are going to follow me, then follow me. It’s a relational commitment that trumps all other relational commitments. It is the paradox of distance and love. Every day I have to die to my life. At every turn we deny ourselves and follow him. We’re made to cling to things, but God is what we’re supposed to cling to. So every day I don’t have to just remind myself of this truth, but to die to it. Every day I need to distance myself from everything of this world. How? In prayer, and in my soul. God is SO important to me, and the things of this world just aren’t. It’s loss, and the experience of loss, that teaches us how to do this, that teaches us what doesn’t matter. Jesus affirmed in John 11.35 that bonding with people is a good thing, and we are supposed to love one another. But we also understand there’s a distancing. It’s not that when people who are close to us die, that we don’t care. It’s the paradox, though. When we lose a loved one, we cling to God, because God is ultimately the ring around us, not the people. It’s easy to understand but hard to live. These are deep truths.

He lays it deep: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” No one is pretending that there aren’t pros and cons of every decision, and that every decision has a cost to it. Every decision. Even mundane ones have mundane costs. Important ones have important costs. Always. This is a deep teaching, and Jesus is cutting no slack. What does it mean?

1. It’s truly a decision each must make. It’s a choice, and no one is coerced.
2. The invitation is open to all.
3. What you are signing up for is the path of rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. But he doesn’t mean it literally because of the word “daily.” It’s a spiritual thing.
4. Deny self: humility, servanthood, submissive, repentance, generosity, don’t blame God for the world’s problems, deny the temptation to power, some self-deprivation, and love others.
5. Take up cross. There’s no other way to take this than rejection, suffering, and death.
6. Follow me: Be like Jesus.

Then he tells some stories. Know what you are getting into. Know what you are committing yourself to. Think it through, and weigh the decision. There are benefits, but there are also costs. The value is not in starting, but in finishing. Jesus always talks in spiritual terms, using what sounds like metaphors, hyperbole, and even ridiculous demands to refer to spiritual truths. (As I mentioned, in Jn. 6.54, he tells people to eat his flesh and drink his blood.) Therefore he is not saying that you have to give everything away and give everything up physically, but spiritually. He is talking about souls, not possessions. He wants no spiritual competitors, compromise, or not counting the cost.

The reference to salt is a reference to perseverance. Imagine a barrel of flavorless salt—what would you do with THAT? Nothing. It will even ruin dirt if you throw it on it. He’s saying to the people, “If you aren’t making a decision to go the full distance with me, then don’t even start. I can’t use someone who will quit the team half-way through the season. I can only use the guy who won’t leave. I can only use the guy who will build the whole tower. I can only use the guy who will go to war and not desert. What is the use of a military force of deserters? I can only use salt that’s salt. Salt that isn’t salt is even worse than crap. Even crap I can use to fertilize my fields!”

“He who has ears, let them hear.”

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