Take Out a Half-Sheet of Paper

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

One day when I was a student in New Orleans, I went to my seminar on early Christian preaching led by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Gene Hall. The seminars usually consisted of someone’s presenting a paper or book review and the rest of us discussing the subject, but that day Dr. Hall began by asking us to take out a half sheet of paper.

It sounded as if he were about to give us a quiz. That was not supposed to happen. We were more sophisticated than that! You don’t have quizzes in doctoral work!! I became increasingly alarmed when I realized that at that stage in my studies there were very few questions I could answer. But Dr. Hall didn’t ask any questions, however. Instead he told us to list all that we had done in the previous week to prepare for this meeting.

This was even worse. I was stunned. The room became noticeably warmer. Dr. Hall later told me the blood drained from my face. I think he enjoyed it, at least a little bit. Most professors are like that. I wrote down a few meager things that might in some creative way be considered “preparation” for the seminar. He asked us to sign the paper. I did, all the while feeling a little nauseated and seeing my ministerial career flash before my eyes. He then asked us to look at what we had done. I stared at my little list. He then told us to fold it and put the paper into our notebooks. My spirits lifted. We didn’t have to hand it in! He would never know!

But then he added, “Before you put it away, ask yourself if your efforts this past week truly reflect what you want to accomplish in your studies.” I will never forget that lesson. He challenged me that day to take seriously my decision to pursue that degree. His demonstration reminded me that if I wanted to accomplish anything worthwhile, I had to have a consistent commitment.

Jesus often did things that very few ministers would do. One such occasion came right after He noticed the large crowds that were following Him. He turned and spoke of some of the most startling words we find anywhere in His teaching. Three times in the section from Luke 14:25-33 Jesus said “you cannot be my disciple.”

The words are jolting. Not only did He appear to exclude people, He actually repeatedly used the word “hate” to describe family relations in comparison to our commitment to Him.

Normally we picture Jesus throwing open His arms and the gates of heaven. “Whosoever” is the reigning invitation, and so it should be. There are times, however, when we need to count the cost, and that is what Jesus meant.

The harsh words are hyperbole, or extreme figurative language designed to make a point. Of course Jesus does not want us to hate anyone, but before we think that lets us off the hook we have to think carefully about the point He was trying to make. Our focus on Him must be crystal clear. Our commitment to Him must be unwavering. Being a Christian can never be an after-thought, or an occasional addendum.

Look at it this way, we love the idea of the ever-present Christ. Union with Christ, being “in Christ” and “Christ in us” are some of the most comforting ideas in our faith. But Jesus was trying also to teach us that faith is a challenge. Faith always becomes a challenge when it is inconvenient. Anytime we refuse to think and act as Jesus would have in our situation, then we have refused the challenge. We have taken the easy way. We have let self, instead of Christ, rule.

Lent must be a time when you not only think about the cross, but take up that cross more in your life. As you turn from self-interest, you become more like Christ, and then you become the person God created you to be. This process can be tremendously challenging and uncomfortable, but that is why Jesus spoke as He did in this passage. You have to honestly look at your effort and decide if this represents the high calling to which Christ has called you. What are you doing in response to His call?

So are you ready? All right. Take out a half sheet of paper…


Dr. Terry Ellis

March 19, 2012