Making Heads or Tails of It
February 13, 2014 24 Comments
A few months back, one of the sermons at my church was on Luke 14:25-33
25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
The same basic sermon I will relate to you now, I’ve seen it at least twice in the Men’s Sphere. It is, in my experience, very commonly heard from pulpits. The message of this sermon is that Jesus was telling us that it’s a matter of good judgment to be a good Christian. That if we do it wrong–if we aren’t living the Christian life properly–then there will be hatred between us and our fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters because we have led them astray, or at least not been Christian enough for them to know that the Christian life would be good for them.
He went on to say that because we are sinners, this will happen sometimes, and these times will be like taking up a cross. We will not be able to avoid times when we have to choose between Christ and what our families want, and even between Christ and what we want. Yet, if we are careful to count the cost before we build our individual towers of family, of our professional lives, etc., then we won’t have to hate our fathers, mothers, and so on; that our careful consideration of how to live as a Christian will bring easy and solid construction of our lives.
It is then said that the fourth part of the parable is that in this world we are outnumbered; as the king of 10,000 is outnumbered by the army of 20,000. That the world’s king of 20,000 will wage war against us and try to destroy our individual towers with our individual troop of 10,000, and that we–as the religion of the Prince of Peace–ought to be ambassadors of peace to those kings of 20,000 troops. That if we make terms with the world, then peace will reign and we will be the blessed peacemakers that Christ spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Furthermore, that if we have counted the cost correctly, and built our towers accordingly, then we have nothing to fear from the king of 20,000 because our foundation is solid. The priest said this hearkened to the parable of the man who built his house on the rock, and the man who built his house on sand.
You’ll notice that there is some cross-referencing there (making peace, and peacemakers, tower foundations and foundations of rock versus sand), and this makes for a tidy sermon on how we ought to be good Christians. It also provides a test so we can know if we are good Christians according to this system of measure:
- Good Christians don’t hate their family; usually because they have Christian families.
- Good Christians should expect comfortable lives; inasmuch as they are doing things right.
- Good Christians’ towers are completed because they are well-built.
- Good Christians overcome the powers of the world by being kind to them, and so gain peace from the world.
Conversely, if you fail to pass this test–if you strive with family, or your situation is precarious, or people find you disagreeable–then that means you are a failed Christian, or a foolish Christian, or at least you still have a lot of work to do. And, because it is true that we are sinners who fail and are foolish who still have a lot of work to do, this all makes sense to us. Sound familiar?
I will tell you what I told our priest that day as I shook his hand after the service: “That interpretation is very wrong.”
1. With the exception of husbands and wives, family are not chosen. Particularly with regard to fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters we have no control over who or how they are, and consequently no direct responsibility for how they behave or what they profess. If you choose Christ and they have not you will have to hate them. Hate, like love, being an action.
2. We should understand that “what you do is who you are” and so Jesus is also saying that our rejection of them will be hateful to them. You will end up being tortured (“on a cross”, at the least: emotionally, spiritually, and socially) by them because of Christ.
2. When you sit down to count the cost of building your tower of family, what you will discover is this: You are going to die, and it will be before your family is complete. You will be deserving of mockery if your plan is to build your own family or legacy because you will not see it through. Give up your plan to build your family, and make it your mission to build God’s family; Christ’s tower. He is the only one who will live to see it through to the end. So if you want your work to be completed and endure, then you can only being doing His work on His tower.
3. The king of 20,000 that is coming against you and who cannot be overcome is Christ. You cannot defeat Him and the only way your people will survive–the only way you can make peace with Christ–is to surrender yourself and your people to Him. If you do not: You and they will be destroyed. Your people will see this surrender as hate because submitting to Christ is not what they want to do. That hatred is evident in every child as they rage and cry whenever she is denied something that is not good for her, or whenever you discipline him for a wrong.
The key to understanding this bookends the text. Jesus starts and ends with the ultimatum: You either give up everything for me, or you are going to lose everything–now. This isn’t an argument the Greeks would have appreciated as it is utterly from the authority of Him who has power over life and death. It is a coin-toss by the Maker of people, coins, and tossing. Below are the rules of the coin-toss.
Heads: Christ wins. Tails: You lose.
We can go a lot of different places from here, but what’s interesting to me right now is the question of why this triplet of parables is so commonly misinterpreted. I think the answer has to do with a desire for control; first and foremost. There is precious little control in those allegories.
Secondly, there is the misconception that we have something to offer that Christ needs from us. We labor under the delusion that we are in a position to make an exchange with God; that there is an economy between us. This is akin to saying there is an economy between parent and child when there is nothing the child owns (or is!) that the parent did not give him. Christ is not offering a trade, but reclaiming at sword-point what is His. This is what we mean when we say Christ redeems. Whoever gets in the way is a thief, and worse.
Third, there is genuine desire on our parts to be like our Older Brother; to be helpful, and to just want to be a part. It never sounds like being a part when the people you look up to tell you to get behind them. It just feels like they’re bullies, and this feeling keeps us from recognizing that we would be added to the throng of 20,000.
Finally, there is just plain confusion on our parts because Christ literally loves us to death, and it makes no sense from a material perspective. It is beyond logical; not illogical, but rational constructs cannot contain it. We try to work this out in our tiny little minds, and we can’t contain it all, either. There are days of insight and nights of near-complete black, but mostly we see in imperfect shadows and reflections.
Making too much of the patterns we only darkly see, these desires spin and rationalize until we contrive that there’s got to be some system at work, and that if we can just crack it then we could be really useful to Jesus, and the people around us. If we could just find the all the little reasons of why God does what He does, and the cosmic interworkings of how He does it, then we could rationalize it all and create a system of how to be good people.
How to really help people–Jesus-like–without actually relying on Jesus ourselves because we are deceived into believing we’ve gained an understanding, and that understanding from visions half-seen. The first part is Satanism, and and the second part is foolishness. It replays itself over and over again among God’s people; from the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, to the worship of the Golden Calf. From philosophy, to psychology. From theology, to evolution. From legalism, to libertinism. From the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, to the desire for relevance of the Emergent Church movement. From Girl Power, to the art of seduction.
That search for the system contains the contradiction that dooms us: Good people don’t need to be saved. Good people don’t need Christ. There is no such thing as a “good” Christian and a “bad” Christian; just as a person is either human, or not; just as he is either alive, or dead. There are only Christians, and those of the world. Work which you are through fear of the King who approaches your tower, and tremble at his might. Or die.
6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7 rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
For in Christ is all the wisdom and knowledge of the world; among other things.
This is why I continue writing about the dangers of approaching personal relationships in secular terms. I don’t just write against Game, as I am commonly misrepresented. I’m writing against all those things I listed above, and more. These contrivances of men have long infected the church. We live among a people where tomorrow is a holiday instead of a holy day, and that holiday is named after a saint who is a saint for reasons unknown to anyone. On this holiday we celebrate sentimental and irrational eroticism. We lie, and call these desires “love” instead of calling them desires, and therefore we do not even attempt to direct them as the will should always direct emotions.
That’s what adherence to philosophies, deceits, tradition, and rudiments (these are all tools) gets us. Don’t adhere to those things: Filter them. See through them, not by them. You and we will know what you see through and what you see by according to your praise.
Edit: This should have been added and addressed above:
1 Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it:
except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows:
for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
3 Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord:
and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
so are children of the youth.
5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
 I did continue and tell him this same gist, but I didn’t want to hold up the line. He agreed.
 I hope you understand that there is a starker difference between wisdom and science than there is between physics and biology. If you find yourself tempted to argue that one can’t learn algebra, or how to drive a car, from the Bible you have bigger problems than whether you can handle a woman.