Christ is born!
This is the time of year when we normally spend some moments reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to the next. Some will make some New Year’s Resolutions. Others will systematically set goals and specific benchmarks for the coming year. Me? Well, I do a little bit of both. But an idea that keeps coming back to me is how to do this while, at the same time, make sure I am fully present in the moment so that I don’t miss what is, what was, or what might be!
And I think the best way to do all this; to be fully present in the moment, to honestly and dispassionately look at the past, and to faithfully and hopefully plan for the future is to Count the Cost! But what does that mean?
Look at our Gospel Lesson in Luke 14:25-35:
At that time, great multitudes accompanied Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Our Lord Jesus confronts us with a stark and jarring teaching concerning counting the cost of being His disciple. Remember, a disciple is one who doesn’t pay lip service to the ideas of the “teacher” but mimics the teacher’s life and behavior, works to make sure his priorities match the priorities of the teacher, and fully expects his life to follow the same trajectory as the teacher. That’s what it means to be a disciple! No wonder the Lord lays out just what it will “cost” someone to be His disciple.
The First Cost is a reordering of your love! The challenging language of the passage doesn’t mean I should hate my mother and father and children, but it does mean that my love for God is so great that all other loves look like “hate” in comparison. That’s what it costs to be a disciple of Jesus.
The Second Cost is to bear a cross. Now don’t misunderstand here; no one in the Lord’s audience that day missed the meaning of this. There’s only one use for a cross. Only one. It is an instrument of death, and that is exactly what the Lord means to say. A disciple of Jesus has to be willing to “die” to the twisted and backward priorities of this world and be willing to say goodbye to those broken ideas and choices.
Because no one starts to build without first sitting down to count the cost! And this is the cost of true discipleship of Jesus Christ. It’s summed up in that old saying written on the wall of a monastery on Mt. Athos: “If you die before you die, then when you die, you won’t die!” The only way to deal with our past, plan for our future, and actually be present in our now is to keep in front of us the unmistakable reality of our own mortality, the willingness to live life in repentance, and to joyously know that the death of death accomplished by the Lord we follow will be ours as well.
Today, as we bask in the glow of Bethlehem and look forward to a new year, let’s have the courage of authentic disciples and set our priorities based not on ideas that have already proven to be traps for our souls, but on the wisdom of the Lord we claim to love. And let’s allow this wise way of life to so affect our choices that all around us will want to follow too. They will be able to to see the beauty of being Orthodox on Purpose.