Tuesday, August 24, 2010

September 5 Sermon - Part Three

In this post, I'll be checking out the commentaries on my text, Luke 14:25-33.

I'll start with the post over on Working Preacher. I really appreciated Dr. Brown's approach to the text. She begins, "We live in a market driven society, so it is not surprising that we feel the urge to 'sell' Christianity in the marketplace of competing ideas and ways of life. Yet, when Christian mission is shaped toward the 'sell' mentality, it more often than not becomes a 'low-cost' and 'low-risk' commodity. How else will we persuade others to receive the faith, if not by coming in with a lower or better offer? But is the Christian faith really a low-cost, low-risk endeavor? The lectionary text for this week, Luke 14:25-33, offers a challenge to a market driven approach to Christian mission." Wow - talk about economic and spiritual implications!

She goes on to address the troubling demand of "hating" one's family and one's own life, lifting up the hyperbolic and perhaps idiomatic language. Then she analyzes the parables of the tower and the king, concluding that "Jesus extols a commitment to finishing the discipleship journey once begun or not beginning it at all. Following Jesus is an all or nothing proposition." Rather than quote the entire commentary to you, I'll let you check it out yourself (click on the link above, then click the tab labeled "Gospel").

I also read Joseph Fitzmyer's Anchor Bible commentary. Fitzmyer compares Luke's version to Matthew's, as well as to similar sayings in the Gospel of Thomas. He makes an analysis of sources and form. He notes that "Verse 33 . . . is a conclusion to this passage, which has been composed by Luke, in order to add a further condition of discipleship, his favorite idea of disposing of material possessions." He also identifies two other specific conditions of discipleship: the willingness to leave family ties and the willingness to face radical self-denial. "In addition, [Luke] casts these conditions of discipleship in a demand for serious consideration . . . The engagement is not to be undertaken lightly." With regard to the giving up of possessions, Fitzmyer writes, "In these parables Jesus counsels the disciple to consider seriously what forces and resources the would-be disciple has. But the added condition in v. 33 counsels renunciation of all the material possessions that one has. Note the contrast: what one has in the former sense is infinitely more important than what one has in the latter."

Meanwhile, over in Joel Green's commentary (part of the New International Commentary on the New Testament), Green links this pericope to what has come before. He writes, "Particularly in Jesus' story of the great banquet (vv 15-24), he had introduced the possibility that one's ties to possessions and family might disqualify one from enjoying the feast. As Jesus turns to address the crowds traveling with him, he lists allegiance to one's family network and the shackles that constitute one's possessions as impediments to authentic discipleship." I appreciate his emphasis on transformation: "The conversion that characterizes genuine discipleship is itself generative, giving rise to new forms of behavior."

On the subject of "hating" one's family and one's life/soul, Green has this to say: "[Followers of Jesus] are characterized, first, by their distancing themselves from the high cultural value placed on their family network, otherwise paramount in the world of Luke. That is, in this context, 'hate' is not primarily an affective quality but a disavowal of primary allegiance to one's kin. . . Again, 'hating' one's self should not be taken as a reference to affective self-abhorrence, but as a call to set aside the relationships, the extended family of origin and inner circle of friends, by which one has previously made up one's identity."

Green also has a slightly different take on the second part of the pericope, the parables. He sees the point of the parables not to be the need for preparation but the unavoidable inadequacy of resources: "The interpretive crux does not lie in 'counting the cost.' The point is that, no matter what calculus one uses, no matter what resources one believes one can bring to bear, those assets will be insufficient to secure one's status before God." The landowner does not have the resources to build a tower, and so is mocked; the king does not have the resources to win the war, and so is forced to surrender. "By extrapolation, then, Jesus insists that such assets as one's network of kin, so important in Greco-Roman antiquity, are an insufficient foundation for assuring one's status before God." Green sees verse 33 not as a third condition added to the conditions in vv 25-27 (as per Fitzmyer), but as the summary of all the conditions.


Sarah said...

I'm intrigued by this text--especially since I'm working with it, too. One thing I didn't really grasp was the last part of this reading. I tend to agree with Green, that no matter what intentions we may have at the beginning, we can never fulfill the totality of the expectations of discipleship in our imperfect human selves. This would seem to overrule the notion that one should not begin this journey unless he or she is able to finish it. However, that leaves me wondering why counting the cost is so important as to be included in two of Jesus' illustrations here...

Jennie said...

Sarah - the more I thought about it, the more I've come to the conclusion that the two parables are saying different things. After reading about the tower, we immediately assume that the parable of the king has the same message and try to read them in parallel.

The parable of the tower is about counting the cost. One either starts and faces ridicule and failure, or does not. But when it comes to the king, he seems to face a lose-lose situation: he can fight a superior army, or he can surrender. Either way, he's not succeeding, no matter how much he counts the cost.

The commentaries seem to differ based on which of the two parables they favor. Green seems to be following the parable of the king in his interpretation.

Sarah said...

Interesting. I think you may be right--we read them together because that's how they're recorded. I can't help but wonder, then, about the symbolism of the one negotiating peace for the king who cannot win on his own... I was trying to somehow read that into both of them, but I think if one separates the two illustrations, it makes much more sense. Thanks, Jennie! That helps a lot.