Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

135. More Parables of Warning (Luke 14:25-35)*

It was a strange paradox-the experience of Gideon over again. Although the leaders of the nation held off, Jesus had no lack of followers: "there went great multitudes with him." Yet he was dissatisfied and gloomy regarding the situation. He sought their personal committal to the life he was showing them how to live. But they were more interested in the excitement of his miracles, more intent on the Messianic Kingdom which many of them still hoped for from him.

So once again, austere and demanding, he presented his manifesto: "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."

To some the words must have been like sudden immersion in ice-cold water. But Gideon had had to rid himself of the weak and fainthearted and had had to whittle down the remaining thousands even further by what became a test of their personal religious scruples. Here now the corresponding winnowing process was being applied to the multitudes of the Lord's superficial sympathisers. In its tone the call was astringent and challenging. Of course Jesus did not mean there must be literal hatred of one's family. Jacob's inferior love for Lean was called hatred (Gen. 29:30,31). And had not Jesus mercilessly trounced the Pharisees' sophistry which allowed a man to evade the duty of caring for his aged parents (Mt. 15:4)? On an earlier occasion Jesus had defined this "sacred hate" as "not loving more" those who are normally closest and dearest (Mt. 10:37)-this especially when they are opposed to or in competition with Christ. It had been exemplified in ancient days by the willingness of the tribe of Levi to forsake the natural ties binding them to worshippers of the golden calf, in order to respond to the call: "Who is on the Lord's side?" (Ex. 32:26,27; Dt. 33:8,9; 13:6).

The straight meaning of this saying of Christ has been much neglected-or distorted. Very clearly he was requiring that all natural affections be given second place compared with allegiance to himself. It is a sentiment quickly and easily said, but for disciples of Christ whose families do not share their loyalty to him this con be the most demanding thing he ever required, Of course Jesus did not mean that oil responsibilities and affections for one's own kith and kin should be let go. But he did require that priority of devotion and service should be given to his work and the members of his family. So there may be times when, to others not instructed in the gospel, following one's duty to Christ may look like hatred of one's own family.

But the hardest clause is the last: "yea, and his own life also." The Greek word psuche, soul, is constantly used in the New Testament to sum up a man's natural instincts and inclinations, all the life, interests and affections of unregenerate man (see Notes). In asking his disciples to forego these, could Jesus have been more demanding?

Yet, except a man make a conscious choice of his way of life, except there be a deliberate renunciation of the priority of natural ties and inclinations, "he cannot be my disciple." The shape of the sentence puts the emphasis on the last word. It is possible to be an "associate member" of the ecclesia and family of Christ, and yet not be a disciple. "There went great multitudes with him," says this record, but few of them were "called, and chosen and faithful," Amongst them all how many were prepared to "bear the cross of self, and come after Jesus"?

What a contrast here between the call of Christ and that of all human leaders! They ever beckon their disciples on with the prospect that all will be easy, pleasant, and prosperous. But not so Christ. And yet, by a strange paradox, he is able to promise an easy yoke and a light burden (Mt. 11:28-30)-which thing is true, for those who achieve the forsaking called for here.

But Paul was forewarned "how great things he must suffer" for the Lord's sake (Acts 9:16). And Ezekiel was goaded into faithful witness, though "thou dost dwell among scorpions" (2:6).

In a general kind of way everyone hearing this challenge knew at once its sombre meaning, but in all that multitude was there one who lecognised just how pointed it was? The twelve hod heard this poignant saying before, but not one of them realised yet the plangent meaning it was to take on in a few week's time. After Passover many of those who now heard would think again with renewed seriousness of this realistic metaphor.

Building a tower

There were those who lacked the purposeful self-dedication which Jesus sought. With a blithe airy self-confidence they said: "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." In a telling parable he now bade them stop and think what they were about. Yet the warning stood written in the Book of Proverbs: "Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established... Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house" (24:3,27). Jesus proceeded to turn this into a very forceful parable.

With great gusto and optimism a man proceeded to put down the foundations of a tower. Course by course the structure rose, with all the promise of impressive completion. Then, suddenly, when the tower was yet a long way from its full height all activity came to a halt. The man had run out of money and materials. The fine impressive structure, the mental picture of which had so fascinated his sanguine imagination, was now a monumental folly, a joke on the lips of everybody for miles round.

If only he had had the elementary prudence to go carefully into the costing of the undertaking first, the foolish fellow could have saved himself from becoming a laughing stock and a bankrupt. If, instead, he had tailored the project to suit his pocket and his own strength (v.28, 29 Gk.), there might have been a house or other erection that would have been his pleasure and pride for many a long day.

The warning against a sanguine over-hasty decision to serve Christ is specially needful when a man is of a blithe unreflective disposition. Appropriately, then, Jesus spoke in terms of building a tower. This for two reasons. It was a reminder of the tower of Babel, that great futility which men set out to erect with sublime confidence in their own powers. And, by contrast with (say) the construction of a wall round a garden or estate, the building of a tower gets more and more difficult as the structure rises higher. Thus nothing could more suitably represent a discipleship of Christ undertaken in a spirit of se/Areliance and self-confidence. Such a man, even though he lay a good foundation (which is Jesus Christ himself; 1 Cor. 3:11), if he expect to achieve eternal life through his own efforts, can end only as a sorry, failure:

"Like one that draws the model of a house
Beyond his power to build it; who, half-through,
Gives o'er, and leaves his part-created cost,
A naked subject to the weeping clouds,
And waste for churlish winter's tyranny."
In his version of the parable Shakespeare (Henry IV, part 2, 1:3) suggests perhaps the sadness of heaven at such a failure, but he omits
the mockery of all who, looking on, see the fine project grind to a halt, and contribute nothing but a coarse joke.

This last is an important feature in the tragedy, for when a man rushes unthinking into discipleship of Christ and comes to grief, his failure and abandonment of all high aspirations are made to reflect badly on the One he has chosen to follow. For it is in this illogical fashion that the world, itself making no effort at all, quietens its uneasy conscience.

In the parable the man's basic mistake was in ever setting out to build a tower, for, if completed, it could only be a monument to his own industry, cleverness, and wealth. If the intention was to erect a tower of refuge for times of danger, then why build at all? There was such a haven of safety already available: "The name of the lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" (Pr. 18:10). But perhaps he was set on having one of his own. Then more fool he!

This story of the unfinished tower would sound familiar in the ears of the crowd, for lately Pilate's excellent project to furnish Jerusalem with a fine new supply of water had had to be left unfinished through lack of revenue.

And the twin parable also was the story of king Herod whose divorcing of the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, in order to marry the infamous Herodias, had involved him in a disastrous war and a shameful defeat.

Following Jesus, there were others in the multitude just as much in need of warning, though for a very different reason. These could see plainly enough that the claims of Jesus were true. Nevertheless, for various reasons -fear of the rulers, the influence of family ties, the pull of worldly circumstances, the daunting idealism Jesus constantly insisted on— for one or other of such reasons they held back from openly espousing his cause. Willing enough to cheer from the spectators' benches, they were put off by the rigours of the contest from joining in.

War or Capitulation?

These, Jesus now proceeded to show, were in dire danger. Only prompt decision could save them. For, by their irresolution, they were turning the grace of God into an enemy. It was, and still is, the predicament of a king, with no more than ten thousand troops all told, having to face an aggressive campaign by an invader with an army of twenty thousand at his back, besides lots more he can bring into action if necessary. (The Greek prepositions seem to imply this.)

The commonsense thing to do, Jesus emphasized, would be to hold a conference of generals about the prospects, and then, surely, before the invader's campaign can really get under way, to send a delegation to get the best peace terms possible.

The way this story is developed by Jesus, it is possible to see special meaning in every detail. The king who has incurred the wrath of his neighbour is the enlightened rejector of the gospel. The cloud of war now looming on the horizon is the coming day of adverse judgment. The counsellors whose wisdom is consulted in this strait are surely the men who wrote the books of Holy Scripture. Perhaps the envoy sent to parley is the mediator, Jesus himself. And in such circumstances the conditions of peace (Lk. 19:42 Gk.) are always the same-total surrender (of all that is originally his; v.33 Gk.) Here is a full renunciation comparable to the "hatred" already called for (v. 26).

How Jesus hoped as he told this brief but vivid story that his hearers would draw the logical conclusion: "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."

But it may be urged that, if the correspondence is to be pressed, there is a marked lack of seemliness about the numbers of the respective armies. Is the unsubmissive hearer of the gospel even half as good as God? Of course not! But he would like to think that he is! The man, whom the Bible's solemn message about human sin does not impress with his own desperate plight, evidently thinks of himself as falling not too far short of the divine standard. Otherwise, in earnest repentance he would gladly make friends with God and not dally until the day when he had made the Almighty implacably hostile.


Jesus summed up the message of this grave discourse with another little parable which he had used earlier in another context (Mt. 5:13), Salt is unique in its powers of bringing out the flavour of anything that is savoury. But if the salt loses its saltness, what else can be used to restore the flavour to it? It is then not only quite useless in cooking but also, if thrown on to cultivated land or the manure heap, positively harmful. The only place where it will do no harm is in the street or on a busy path, trodden underfoot by all.

This, exactly, is the prospect for both types that Jesus exhorted that day. The self-confident fellow who eagerly takes on discipleship with much assurance regarding his own powers of achievement, and who as hastily loses his zeal for the high calling in Christ; and the man who, learning more and more, in a detailed kind of way, about the gospel of Christ, yet lacks either the courage or the good sense to throw caution to the winds and to lose his nervousness in fully-committed service to Christ-neither of these types has any hope of finding a better, more rewarding life away from Christ. For them life can only become an insipid dissatisfaction. Both must inevitably end up as castaways.

The lessons were obvious enough. Jesus could hardly have made his point more trenchantly, Why did they not recognize and follow the wisdom of his counsel? And why do they not?

Notes: Lk. 14:25-35

Life, psuche, the inclinations of the natural unregenerate man; e.g. Lk. 12:19,22; Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:22; Rev. 18:14; 1 Cor. 2:14; Jas. 3:15; Jude 19.And Jn. 10:11; 12:25,27; Mt. 26:38.
Contrast the great project undertaken by heaven: Heb. 4:3; 12:2;Jn. 19:30.
Conditions of peace. King Josiah unwisely followed a different course and paid for it (2 Kgs. 23:29).
Forsaketh. In OT (LXX), Ecc. 2:20 only.
Wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is possible that Jesus intended an ellipsis here: "wherewith shall it (your sacrifice) be seasoned?" (Lev. 2:13).

Previous Index Next