“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’
“‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’’”
Meditation 14. 1,412,103 confirmed cases, 81,103 deaths globally.
There are times and places when the church lives in such peace and abundance that faith becomes an inexpensive thing. What cost another generation their lives and livelihoods costs us Sunday mornings and a modest tithe.
The temptation for those of us who wish to invite everyone into the fold of the faithful is to lower the cost of faith even further. Perhaps, we say, faith no longer requires so much sacrifice. Perhaps the time of suffering is past. In fact, there may be no cost to faith at all. Perhaps it’s the opposite. Perhaps faith paves the way to greater health and wealth.
Jesus was never so eager to keep a crowd that he minimized the costs of faith (see John 6:60–66). He could not have been clearer that following him requires enormous sacrifice. “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Every person should count the cost.
Jesus understood something we have forgotten. When we lower the cost of faith, it becomes something other than faith. A cheap counterfeit. An elegant mantle of piety around the shoulders of an essentially secular life. If we lower the cost further still, it becomes something no one values. Eventually no one is willing to “purchase” what seems so common and unremarkable, what requires so little sacrifice.
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote that the church had become filled with “admirers” when what Christ wants is “imitators.” As we enter into Holy Week as so many are suffering and dying in the pandemic, Jesus does not invite us to be mere admirers of the way he carried his cross nearly two thousand years ago. He invites us to be imitators, to carry our own crosses and follow in his footsteps today.
God may not call us to literal martyrdom. But he does call us to a faith worth living and dying for. He calls us to give our lives, wholly and completely, and follow where he leads.
Faith does not cost us a little. It costs us everything, because it is worth nothing less. The life of faith is costly because it is so extraordinarily valuable.
In the epilogue to Fear and Trembling, one of his most renowned works, Kierkegaard describes a time when the price of spices in Holland had fallen too low. Spice merchants “had a few cargoes sunk in the sea in order to jack up the price.”
Perhaps now amid the pandemic is a time to raise the price again. To recognize that there is no such thing as following Jesus without the cross.
Help us, O Lord, to be imitators and not merely admirers of Jesus. Help us to take up the cross for others, as you took up the cross for us.
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