Matthew 16:21-28 Romans 12:9-21
The cost of following Jesus
There’s a saying in Dutch that says, basically, ‘only the sun comes up for nothing’. In other words: you have to pay for everything except the sun; that’s for free. It’s somewhat equivalent to saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I suppose we’re all pretty smart when it comes to appreciate cost; we tend to put a higher value on things that are rare and therefore more expensive. Those who attend the Antiques Roadshow or Flog It bring their items, sometimes to learn more about them, but also because they want to know ‘what’s it worth!’. And there it becomes important to know whether something is the real thing. So, how do we know? Do we know it’s real because we paid a lot of money for it? Or do we know it’s real because others would like to have it? In trade the rule for assessing value is desirability that pushes the price. But when it’s not about an actual object, how do we decide? It’s not my aim to go deeper into the intricacies of economic value and trade, but we have seen some peculiarities about it in recent times: remember toilet paper? How many people saw the beginning of lockdown as a cue for hording loo rolls? Then there was the apparent shortage of flour – for baking. The more people had to stay at home, the more they began to bake. It was probably lovely to taste all those new cakes, but it might not have done much for our waistlines. Or, perhaps I should say, it’s done a lot to our waistlines…!
In any case, there’s a cost to be paid for everything, and we tend to be fine with a higher price for a greater gain. How different, then, do Jesus’ words sound from the Bible passage for today from Matthew 16! Here, it’s all upside-down: to save your life you need to lose it; to follow Jesus you need to deny yourself and take up your cross. And the reason is this: there is no price that we could ever pay in order to become a disciple of Christ. There simply isn’t enough money in the world to cover the cost of discipleship, or better put: discipleship has no price that could be paid in monetary terms. Nor can we ever be saved by doing ‘good things’.
That could be a bit of a blow to some. Wouldn’t it be much easier if we could just ‘pay’ in some way to become a Christian? Would it not be more sophisticated to be known as a follower of Christ because we were willing and able to lay out the cash? Well, that would make the Church a place for the elite; and it certainly wasn’t God’s plan to organise the Church like that at all. Neither money nor good works can get anybody to heaven. It reminds me of what military marches would sometimes sing, with the leader singing a line, and the others echoing it::
Leader: No, you can’t to heaven – (group echo) no you can’t go to heaven
In a baked bean tin – (echo)
‘cause a baked bean tin – (echo)
Has got baked beans in – etc.
And you can’t go to heaven
In a white sports car
‘cause a white sports car
Won’t get that far
You could continue that song with all sorts of images like that. There’s no way you could find your way to heaven without Jesus. The last shall be first in the kingdom of God. Jesus again turns things upside down. He confounds the wishes of His closest friends, so as not to be tempted to take the easy way out. Peter didn’t understand it – we wouldn’t have either. For who can understand without the enlightenment of God Himself, after the events that were to follow.
Take up your cross and follow me, Jesus says. And that’s how you will find your true life. How can this be? Taking up your cross means accepting and being committed to doing God’s will, even when you don’t understand where and how He is leading. It means being active, not passive, in expressing our faith in engaging with the needs of others. It also means obedience and trust.
Follow me, says Jesus. The baked bean tin, the white sports car, but also the paper boat (won’t stay afloat) and any other surrogate or escape route we can think of, will not work. Only Jesus works. And when we work with him, we can see the Son of Man in his kingdom as, through faith, communities are changed. Amen.