A closer look at Luke (Part 13): Worship without following is not discipleship

Luke 14

Today’s chapter covers three stories: another healing on the Sabbath (as discussed in my last post), a parable about a great banquet, and warnings about the cost of following Jesus.

Much of the content reflects themes we’ve discussed already throughout our closer look at Luke. This makes perfect sense; Jesus places special emphasis on the things he values by highlighting them on numerous occasions. While our response should be to take it all the more serious and emphasize it within our own approach to faith, it is remarkable to see how many of these issues actually find the exact opposite experience among modern white American “Christianity.”

Jesus repeatedly warns people in this chapter against selfishness, excuses for not following through on commitments, and self-elevation. His words have tremendous practical application in our world for any relationship best practices, but they take on even greater importance when considering how they should inform our relationship with God.

One of the key comments he makes early on in the chapter is a warning that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (11). This lesson comes at the conclusion of an explanation of what he sees around him at a banquet: people choosing places of honor at the table for themselves. His warning makes perfect sense. If you show up at a wedding reception and sit at the bridal party table despite not being a member of the bridal party, you will face public embarrassment when you’re asked to find a new seat. Further, at that point your options will be limited since everyone else will have already arrived.

Jesus goes on to instruct his followers to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (13) to banquets rather than exclusively focusing on friends. He points to this as an opportunity for us to serve others in a way that recognizes we will not be repaid. There is no quid pro quo in such an action, no expectation that you’ll be honored at the next banquet. Instead, it is generosity and goodness for the sake of love and service.

Unfortunately, this is rarely how we operate in our culture. And it is just as rare among “Christian” culture as others. The current “Christian” cultural focus is on forming connections with power and building up those relationships so as to engender benefits for ourselves. This cynical approach to life has gone so far as to abandon so many of the principles we claim to hold dear in an exchange for connection and proximity to power. As Jesus warned, the end result of this will be humiliation.

Later in the chapter, Jesus shares a parable about a great banquet prepared for a number of people who then find excuses not to come. They reveal their true hearts and lack of affection for the banquet host when they make such little effort to follow through on their prior acceptance of the invitation. But the banquet host does not dwell on such abandonment. Instead, he opens the doors wide and invites anyone and everyone who would normally be considered “outsiders” to participate. Further, he declares that none of the people who he initially invited “will get a taste of my banquet” (24).

This builds on the story of the narrow door from the last chapter and reveals just how wrong the current “Christian” mindset of salvation is. Our cultural approach claims that we’re the insiders and all the “others” don’t belong and will be cast out. Yet all the while we repeatedly show a default position of avoiding following through on our commitment to the banquet host. Jesus told us exactly what the end result of this will be: all of the “others” we look down upon will be the ones he welcomes, while the original invitees who couldn’t put forth the effort to actually follow through on their commitment will be left out. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what we teach and believe while we continue to live in and promote a world that sees the vast majority of white “Christians” in our country supporting a president and policies that go against every single thing Jesus taught.

The final section of this chapter again reinforces just how much our current mindset in white American “Christianity” misses the mark. Jesus repeatedly emphasizes the cost of following him, noting that we must be willing to give up everything to be his disciple. I think our religiosity has caused us to lose track of what he really meant when he talked about discipleship and following. Disciples literally followed their teacher everywhere, every day, at all times. They did everything he did and sought to reflect his image to those around them through each thing they did. The goal was to become as much like the teacher as possible.

Our current mindset equates following Jesus with worshiping Jesus. Those are not the same thing. And note that throughout the gospels, the message Jesus repeatedly conveys is not “worship me.” It’s “follow me.” I believe that Jesus is God incarnate and absolutely worthy of any and all worship we can give. But we’ve focused so much on how worthy he is of worship that we only focus on that. And he didn’t ask us to do that. So by worshiping him and not following him, we’re actually going against everything he taught us to do. We’re actually mocking his teachings. He told us to follow him, to go and do likewise when he healed the sick, cared for the poor, welcomed the outsiders. Instead, we actively ignore those calls and bow down at his feet claiming to worship him while neglecting to actually do what he told us to.

White American “Christianity” does not follow Jesus. It claims to worship Jesus, but “worship” while refusing to acknowledge his commands and follow through on them is a tainted worship. It’s false. It’s worse than meaningless. It’s more like mockery. It is taking the Lord’s name in vain.

The chapter ends with Jesus offering what we often take as a warning, but it’s really not. It’s just a statement of fact: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out” (35). An approach of “worshiping” Jesus without actually following him is as useless as salt that has lost its saltiness. Jesus doesn’t threaten to throw out bad salt. He simply says that’s what people do with it. It has not use, so it’s discarded.

As if to further drive the point home to the group who claims to worship but does not follow, the chapter ends with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (34).

Let us hear today.


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