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The Cost of Forgiveness is the Cost of Discipleship

September 6, 2013

 Luke 14: 25-33

Welcome to the most difficult passage in the New Testament? Difficult not because our first reaction is puzzlement over what Jesus is saying. Difficult because at first glance it seems very clear what Jesus is saying and it makes no sense. Not only does it make no sense but it appears to be morally reprehensible and inconsistent with everything Jesus said and did. The Jesus we follow is the Jesus who loved not just his friends and family but his enemies. The very reason we follow Jesus is because of his total love… nothing to do with hate.

Yet Jesus appears to be asking us to hate our families and give away all our possessions.

For some this will be a good excuse to walk away from this text altogether. Jesus is either mad or wrong. So we will go on with our spiritual life in the way we know best.

Which one of us actually hates their family, not because they are bad people, but because it’s a matter of Christian faith to do so?

Which one of us has given away all of our possessions to follow Jesus. A fortnight ago we read about Jesus call to give away possessions… it’s not an uncommon demand of Jesus. And that Sunday I said we could breathe a sigh of relief because Jesus didn’t say ALL our possessions. Today he does say ALL our possessions. So you can suck that sigh of relief right back in again.

I challenge you to find me one preacher who takes both those commands literally. If they do we probably haven’t heard from them because they won’t be able to afford a TV ministry let alone write a book so we know about it.

 

So we’re in this together. The question is not whether we are going to wiggle our way out of this text today, but how. It’s time to start our wiggling.

 

There is a well known rhetorical technique called hyperbole… which could be defined as “saying something more extreme than you really intend, in order to provoke a response and a new perspective in the hearer.” Hyperbole calls for wriggling.

In other words if we understand hyperbole here, we don’t dismiss what Jesus is trying to say, but understand that he didn’t mean quite what he appears to be saying on a literal first glance.

So what is Jesus point here?… I think the point comes with what follows “For which of you intending to build a Forsyth Barr Stadium, does not first sit down and estimate the cost… “ There is a cost to following Jesus! Jesus is not offering us comfort and an easy life. Jesus wants his followers to know that before they start. There is a high cost. Part of the cost is financial vulnerability and part of the cost is alienation from others, even from those we might otherwise be closely related to. In other words ‘hate’ is too strong a word… but it is Jesus shock tactic to get you questioning everything you take for granted, even life itself. If you follow Jesus it is not a part of your life, it is all your life. It’s not like you have a part for Jesus and a part for family. Following Jesus is worship. That means following Jesus is the God-dimension of our lives. And we don’t worship one hour on Sunday we worship 24/7 and that means that our commitment to the life of Jesus trumps all our relationships. Jesus is not just one person, alongside mum and dad and the kids and the brothers and sisters. Jesus must be the one who determines the shape of the whole shibang.

So Jesus is saying to his friends and to us. Now’s your chance to walk away! There were LARGE crowds following him and perhaps he was aware that crowds have a pulling power of their own which often means that people are simply drawn into the orbit of the crowd and are often blind to the direction of what is happening. You can walk away now!

What’s more for someone joining the way of Jesus might well end up in conflict with the family culture… with the social world they have lived. In fact Jesus expects that. His vision of the world of God doesn’t fit and he knows it will bring conflict. He can tell he will have to suffer. He knows that you can’t live your life with the outcasts and among the unclean and challenge the very structure of religion and public life and get off scot free. There will be a cost.

 

For years, I believe, perhaps for centuries, we have been seduced by a bad theory. We have been trained to think that Jesus suffered instead of us… that there is no cost for us to pay. That he was punished so we don’t have to be. That he died so we might go to heaven. That God somehow magically siphoned off all the sin from us onto Jesus and punished Jesus for it so that he didn’t need to punish us. That guilt is somehow like money, transferable. So if we can’t pay the debt Jesus will and we become magically innocent, or at least get off scot free (no offence to the scottish reformers intended here).

The truth is God didn’t punish Jesus at all on the cross… it’s a completely unbiblical idea. Humanity put Jesus on the cross. Not just random human beings, but something deep within the structure of human life and its sinful tendencies put Jesus on the cross… that scapegoating process was not just random. And Jesus chose to take on that cross…for very good reasons, for God’s reasons… but God didn’t punish Jesus.

Sin didn’t have to be punished! It could be forgiven instead. Notice what I am saying. Jesus went to the cross not to free us from God’s punishment, not to pardon us, but to forgive us (the forgiveness that was always God’s desire from the start). This is important. Forgiveness here doesn’t mean pardon in the face of some universal law of justice by punishment. Forgiveness means restoring a broken relationship. And to do that is costly to the forgiver, God – in many ways we are talking of the cost of communication in relationships.

Think about it like a relationship issue. What does it take to restore a damaged human relationship? What does it take to open up a new future, free of the violence and personal injury that has gone before?

If someone has hurt me in some way, for example, I have to choose to absorb that hurt and not to retaliate. And not only choose non-retaliation, I have to choose to put aside resentment. And in doing so I have to communicate those decisions to the other person, the offender.

Jesus chose to imitate and to demonstrate the life of Abba God in taking on the world on a cross and declaring forgiveness… what’s more in raising him from death God declared God’s forgiveness to us. What Jesus says on the cross, Abba God repeats in the resurrection. I forgive you.

Here’s the point though… Jesus never thought of his suffering as ‘instead of us’. For him being prepared to suffer and actually absorb the violence himself was part of forgiveness. It was an unavoidable part of the process. Not only was he committed to the way of forgiveness he saw his disciples as following him along that way, as being a people of forgiveness. Because he endured the cross, they too would be enabled to take up their own crosses. They too would become people who would choose non-violence, non-retaliation, suffering, in order to heal relationships. Not because a violent God had let them off the hook (punishing Jesus instead). But because they are being set free to imitate a completely non-violent God in the work of forgiveness.

We too will be involved in paying the same cost as he paid, if we are to be peacemakers and reconcilers as he is.

 

So the point Jesus is trying to make is… if you’re going to follow me count the cost of the life you are taking on. A person building a tower doesn’t just put two bricks together and see how it develops. She works out whether she can afford it.

Can we afford the financial vulnerability that goes with sharing our lives with the outcasts?

It’s a frightening question if we contemplate it even for a moment. And perhaps an honest answer has to be No. We actually do not have what it takes to be that vulnerable. But in counting the cost we realise that the resurrection of Jesus has a flipside too… the pouring out of God’s Spirit, the promise of the Spirit. The same Spirit that was in Jesus as he chose his cross, is available and is given to us. On our own we simply can’t afford the cost. But that is not the end of the story.

This week I was approached about whether there might be a soup kitchen in Caversham, whether there might be a space we could make for sharing life with the vulnerable and the outcasts in our midst. My first reaction is to think about all the potential pitfalls… I’m not sure if I was trying to wriggle out or count the cost.

You see it’s one thing to wriggle out of the rather dramatic hyperbole that Jesus uses to get our attention. It’s another thing again to wriggle out of what Jesus is on about and what in the end is the beginning and end of our faith.

 

 

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