Jesus and the King with the Ten Thousand Man Army

Today’s lesson was from Luke chapter 14. It started with the famous (and for Jesus oddly worded) statement that you have to hate your parents and siblings, even life, in order to be a disciple. You have to carry the cross to be a disciple – which seems anachronistic since the fate on the cross was not yet known at that supposed point in Jesus’ ministry. If you’re going to build a tower, wouldn’t you first estimate and see if you have the money to finish it before you start it? You don’t want your neighbors to laugh at you. Likewise if you were a king with a ten thousand man army and a twenty thousand man army marched against you, wouldn’t you send a delegation to ask the terms of peace. “So therefore none of you can be my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.”

We were asked to reflect a moment on the king with the army marching against him. My first thought was flippant: the king would only sue for peace if the army he faced was larger. What if he had 20,000 men? Some of Jesus’ examples don’t make sense like that – for instance at the end of the chapter is the proverb about salt losing its saltiness – salt can’t lose its taste because it is always salt.

Then I realized the point isn’t about how large the army is in this particular campaign, and what should you do strategically. The army to which Jesus refers is always larger. It is the army of desire and attachment. You do have an army: maybe a sense of justice, anti-materialism, a spiritual practice. But what is within you is not enough – you also need your community, service, the Holy Spirit. The terms of peace are to serve God not money. Trying to do both is like starting a house but not having the money to finish it, or taking an army of 20,000 with an army of 10,000.

After reflecting on this throughout the day, in the evening I read the rest of Luke 14. There are three main highlights that fit with the above theme, and make it the point of the chapter.

1. Jesus advises when you are invited to a wedding banquet, not to assume the position of honor because somebody more important may show up, and it would be embarrassing to have to get up and move to a less desirable spot. Better to take the lowest spot and then be invited to take a higher spot as the other guests arrive. Do not make assumptions of your own importance. Your self-ranking is an expression of that desire and attachment that is the 20,000 man army.

2. All of this was taking place in the house of a Pharisee on the sabbath. To his host, Jesus advised his host at his next dinner to invite beggars and cripples, because they have no chance of repaying the service. By doing things for those who cannot repay you, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Notice that Jesus did not say “give away all your stuff until you become a beggar and a cripple because God gives the birds enough to eat he will also feed you.” He said to act kindly toward people in need without expectation of any kind of reward. That desire for a reward – even the imaginary reward “in heaven” at some later time – is an expression of that larger army against whom you cannot win on your own.

3. The centerpiece of the chapter is the “parable of the great dinner.” A man planned a great feast and invited many. Clearly those many included those who had much, for they all refused for reasons all relating to worldly matters of wealth and status. One man had just bought a piece of land, another five yoke of oxen, another had just been married. So the man had his slave go out and invite the beggars and the cripples, who turned up in numbers but still not enough people came to eat all the food. So he finally asked the slave to go out and get just anybody to come in, so the food could get eaten. “For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”

It is easy if you have things to be concerned with your things. Things feed desire and attachment, blind you from the Holy Spirit. This blindness is more subtle than it seems – so much that you may not realize it. It’s not that you’re self-consciously greedy, but that the act of building a “successful” living inherently puts you on terms with the world that are oriented more toward material than spiritual thoughts. You need an external force to put you right – a community of saints, a service (sava), a practice of devotion, all those things which together help you become a “disciple of Christ”. You can’t do it “on your own.”

September 9, 2013 in Life