Counting costs: context

how much - question in letterpress type25Great crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and addressed them, 26 “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? 29 Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him 30 and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ 31 Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? 32 But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. 33 In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.

Here is the sequence of Sunday gospels in these Sundays of Ordinary Time. After having critiqued host and guests alike at the human banquet of the times, the Sunday selection passes over the description and invitation to the heavenly banquet

Luke                  Pericope                                          Sunday Year C Reading
14:1-14               Honor and Humility at Table             vv. 7-14 from 22nd Sunday
14:15-24             Invitation to the Great Banquet         passed over
14:25-33             The Cost of Discipleship                  vv. 25-33 from 23rd Sunday
15:1-32               Parables of the Lost and Found       vv. 1-32 from 24th Sunday
Luke Timothy Johnson (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 223)

The sequence of Sunday readings passes over Luke 14:15-24 regarding the invitation to the banquet. There Jesus tells a parable about those who take a banquet invitation too lightly and because of their casual attitude lose their own right to a share at the table and are replaced by others. This echoes Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (13:31-35). There is an important connection between those verses and our reading. Jesus’ story of the great banquet (vv.15-24) introduces the possibility that ties to one’s possessions and family might bar, hinder or exclude one from enjoying the feast. Jesus lists those allegiances to family and possessions as impediments to authentic discipleship. Contra this cultural practice of familial allegiances, Jesus speaks of the necessity of a life transformed. These new practices must flow out of a transformed disposition reflecting new commitments, attitudes and new allegiances. That is, the conversion that characterizes genuine discipleship is itself generative, giving rise to new forms of being in the world.

Stoffregen notes that there are also strong linguistic connections. Notice in vv.26, 27, and 33 there is the expression “cannot be my disciple.” The word for “can” (or able; dynamai) used in the negative (cannot) generally carries with it the meaning of “not being able” to do something. That is, it refers to something that is impossible for one to do; e.g., Zechariah is unable to speak (Luke 1:20,22). He may want to speak, but he can’t. However, Luke also uses this phrase to refer to something the person is able to do but chooses not to do: the man who cannot get up and give his neighbor some bread (11:7) and the man who has just gotten married and cannot come to the great dinner to which he had been invited (14:20). In both cases it was possible for them to do the task, but they just didn’t want to do it.

How should the phrase be understood in our verses? On one hand, with the invited guest being able to come, but choosing not to just a few verses before our text (14:20), ou dynamai in our verses could refers to something that is within the abilities of the crowd, but they can choose to do it or not. That is, it is within their abilities to hate their family members and carry their crosses and to give up all their possessions. They can choose to do this or choose not to do it.

On the other hand, ou dynamai can refer to something that is impossible for the crowd to do. That is, it is impossible for humans to meet the demands of discipleship even if they wanted to choose it. A related word, dynatos is used in v.31b to refer to the ability of the king’s army to defeat the more numerous enemy. If the king believes that it is possible to defeat them, he chooses to go to battle. If he believes that it is impossible to defeat them in battle, he chooses a diplomatic way to peace — which would be dependent upon the more powerful king’s willingness not to destroy the inferior forces.

In addition, Luke has told us near the beginning of this gospel that “nothing will be impossible (adynateo) with God.” Later, in Luke, after Jesus makes impossible demands on a wealthy ruler, he is asked, “Who can (dynamai) be saved.” He answers, “What is impossible (adynatos) for man is possible (dynatos) for God” [18:26-27].

Sources

  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 228-33
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
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