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. (Luke 14:26)
None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Jesus encouraged his disciples to remove the roadblocks from following his “way” of living. He wanted them to remove the anchors that held them back.
Jesus calls us to give up those things that prevent us from doing the work of peace, justice, and service to others. He knew that no matter how important the kingdom of God appears, things will get in the way—particularly things near to our heart: family, possessions, and even life itself.
Jesus warned his disciples that they might have to turn their backs on their families. I think Jesus was talking about families locked into conformity with the prevailing culture—families that value the pursuit of wealth, prestige, and racial, ethnic, social or religious exclusivity.
There are stories in the gospels that suggest that Jesus turned his back on his own family. They thought he was crazy, according to Mark’s gospel. Mary, his mother, and Jesus’ brothers and sisters thought that Jesus had lost his mind. They came to get him and bring him home.
Jesus created a new family for himself—his followers. Some scholars refer to the creation of a “fictive” family—a family not based on flesh and blood, but based on shared values and a commitment to the kingdom of God.
Jesus told his followers that they might have to sell their possessions if they get in the way. Certainly we need to find a way to live that is not dominated by our possessions. “Simplify” is an idea that is even more important in the twenty-first century than it was in the first century. Today our possessions seem to overwhelm us. They demand an increasing amount of our money, our time, and our attention. The more we can simplify our lifestyles, the more we can focus on the important things in life. The more we can divest ourselves from worry about material things, the more we can focus on the kingdom and God’s justice in the world.
Jesus warned his disciples that they might even have to give up their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, says, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Discipleship is essentially counter-cultural. It is a lifestyle that challenges the dominant culture and all it holds dear. Discipleship brings the disciple into conflict not only with the culture of wealth, domination and violence, but also with the power behind the culture. That conflict can lead to death. Thus the next step—take up your cross.