Proper 18C: Yada, Yada, Yada: A Cautionary Tale
By: The Rev. Kim Jenne
I recently found myself reviewing the comprehensive standards for ANSI Z535 (don’t ask). I had never heard of ANSI Z535 and would have previously guessed it to be the model number for a Battlestar Galatica Cylon raider if pressed. Turns out it is short for the American National Standards Institute and Z535 represents the committee within the institute that standardizes the American system for hazard recognition.
ANSI is the group that determines what safety words mean, assigning their colors and helping consumers identify things and situations that can kill them, maim them or simply ruin a perfectly good day (I’m looking at you, IKEA). For ANSI, these are not mere synonyms, but the difference between life and death. “Warning” could mean amputation of a leg; “caution” might mean a broken fingernail.
Standardized safety warnings extends beyond ANSI of course. Homeland Security has its own color coded alert system (see below). Notice that the colors match the ANSI color system. Americans like color consistency.
This is just one example of a world filled with warnings and caution flags. You experience this everyday with much more insignificant things compared to heavy equipment safety or terrorism alerts. There may be no faster click-through than when I am met with a user agreement before downloading an app. Yada yada yada…click “I Agree,” let’s get on with it, download already.
I think in Jesus’ time, people weren’t much different. They could become numb from all of the warnings. They lived in a rough-and-tumble world filled with precarious situations: dangerous wildlife, high infant mortality, Roman soldiers who could “go-off” any minute and abuse you, not to mention the possibility of contracting any one of a variety of debilitating illnesses. There were warnings, rules, practices, and superstitions to follow to keep people safe from harm. It might have been hard to see red flags when so many people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teachings. After all, Jesus has been warning them all along, but the people were yada yada yada-ing over his precautions. No, Jesus says, we’re not headed to Jerusalem for a Tough Mudder run over the weekend, there is a cross to bear once we arrive! With that cross comes death—for some of us physically, but for all of us, a death to what was before. So, think about this. Heed the warning.
Caution. Warning. Danger.
Luke has often been depicted as a historian-theologian, but I most appreciate his ability to weave a good story. For this reason, his warnings on superficial discipleship don’t read like the warning labels on drug commercials. He writes that his audience might hear Jesus’ teaching in a more compelling, and in the case of this exchange, even shocking way.
The Gospel writer, along with his audience, knows what awaits Jesus in Jerusalem. Luke heeds Jesus’ warning on what uncompromising loyalty looks like by masterfully amplifying the warnings in a way the American National Standards Institute would appreciate.
- CAUTION. In Lk. 8:19-21, Jesus offers a somewhat jarring response to news of his blood relatives on the edge of the crowd, portraying family as a response to communal obedience.
- Jesus offers a stern WARNING to his closest of followers in Lk. 9:23-24, foretelling his suffering and the sacrifices following him will require.
- And now, DANGER in 14:25-35. For Jesus, hasty discipleship is not discipleship at all.
Make the calculation. Count the cost.
Despite the audience shift in verse 25 from the guests at the Pharisee’s banquet to the large crowds traveling around the countryside with him, Jesus is essentially repeating the same warning he gave to the religious leaders (vv. 1-14). He responds to the enthusiastic and willing but perhaps casual, or even reckless followers with words that should stop a first century Jew in their tracks: “whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciples” (v. 26).
That’ll get their attention. As preacher Fred Craddock reminds us, “To hate is a Semitic expression meaning to turn away from, to detach oneself from.” It is not the same as our contemporary expression, “I hate you.” The term denotes action, not emotion. Jesus’ point is not how you feel about your family, rather, it is about who you will choose if and when it comes to choosing between family and the kingdom. Eugene Peterson’s popular paraphrase, The Message, reworks Jesus’ caution as a “refusal to let go” of father, mother, spouse, children…yada, yada, yada. I think preachers should be wary, however, of softening this phrase, dismissing Jesus’ warning as ancient hyperbole. This teaching would have cut deeply into the hearts of the mothers and fathers in the crowd. It would call into question the vows made to a spouse. Family was everything in first century Palestine. It was life. To cut oneself off from family would have certainly meant danger.
“What is demanded of disciples,” Craddock explains further, “is that in the network of many loyalties in which all of us live, the claim of Christ and the gospel not only takes precedence but, in fact, redefines the others. This can and will necessarily involve some detaching, some turning away.”
To follow Jesus to Jerusalem, the pivot point of the entirety of Luke’s Gospel, means to redefine commitment, loyalty, and priorities. It means to let go of those demands that distract us from prioritizing God. Our commitments to family, job, and station in life can bubble up and take precedent over our commitment to follow Jesus.
Can you finish what you start?
Jesus practiced what he preached (Mk. 3:31-35). He understood the demands of family life and the crushing weight of the materialistic world on our focus and attention (Lk. 18-30). But, in this passage, he seems to desire that the people walk with him to Jerusalem with their eyes open. He hopes to remove their naiveté, using the parables of the tower builder (vv. 28-31) and the warring king (vv. 31-32) to further his warning against lighthearted agreement to the demands of discipleship.
Jesus’ final illustration (vv.34-35) brings it home with a story of domestication all can relate to. Perhaps even after laying out a fairly clear warning of the cost of discipleship, Jesus is still trying to help the unreflective crowd understand the cost. Just as salt loses flavor, so can the initial excitement and the early, passion-filled commitment, no matter how sincere or genuine, fade over time.
Jesus was gentle with failure, but sharper when cautioning against “jaunty discipleship and a merely impulsive loyalty.” Playing “fast and loose” with the claims of Jesus is a cautionary tale for the contemporary hearer of Luke’s account. Is the cost more than I am willing to pay? Do I truly understand the cost of this pursuit? Can I finish what I started? As German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” You can’t yada, yada, yada over that.
The Rev. Kim Jenne (@kimkjenne) is currently the Director of Connectional Ministries for the Missouri Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In this position, she is responsible for helping lead congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ. Prior to her most recent appointment, she served as the senior pastor to Webster Hills UMC in Webster Groves, an in-town suburb of St. Louis. And, before that, she worked in advertising where she sold a lot of beer for some very popular brands. She draws on that experience daily but is glad that she now gets to choose which brand to drink. Kim considers herself an inconsistent but persistent follower of Christ.
 Fred B. Craddock, Luke in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary series, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1990): 181.
 Ibid., 182.
 Leander E. Keck, New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IX, Luke, John, (Abingdon Press, 1996), 261.