The Large Crowds

Luke 14: 25-33

Frieda, Henrietta, and Gertrude were Baptist sisters who lived in separate states but always managed to get together for Christmas. One year, they were discussing their respective churches. Frieda lamented, “Our congregation is sometimes down to thirty or forty on a Sunday.” Henrietta sighed, “That’s nothing. Sometimes our congregation is down to six or seven.” Gertrude, a maiden woman in her seventies, topped them all: “Sisters, it’s so bad in our church on Sunday that when the minister says, ‘dearly beloved,’ it makes me blush.”

Large crowds, not small crowds, were traveling with Jesus. What can be said about large crowds in scripture? They eat a lot. In Mark 6: 34 Jesus saw a great crowd, he had compassion for them, and he fed thousands of them with five loaves and two fish. Again, in Mark 8: 1, “In those days there was again a great crowd without anything to eat.”  He fed thousands again with loaves and fish. Large crowds need curing. Matthew 19: 2 reads, “Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.”  Large crowds needed defending from the tyrants. In Matthew 20, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.” There was an environment in first century Palestine where there were tyrants. In Mark 12 Jesus spends time questioning the theology and arrogance of the scribes. Mark then wrote in verse 37, “The large crowd was listening to him with delight.”  The large crowds wanted to exalt a monarch. In Matthew 21: 8, 9 it reads, “A very large crowd spread their cloaks in the road” and shouted, “‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” The crowds were also swayed by the religious authorities. In Matthew 26: 47, “Judas arrived and with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs” to arrest Jesus. The likeminded crowds gathered together. Luke 5: 29 reads, “There was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.” They also gathered to mourn together in  Luke 7 in the funeral for the young man from Nain. The large crowds have particular characteristics. Another characteristic was that large crowds followed Jesus.

To the large crowds following Jesus he said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate life itself cannot be my disciple.” Hating all significant relationships? Otherwise, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple? Fred Craddock, from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, wrote, “The key to understanding this teaching is the word ‘hate.’ It is a Semitic way of expressing detachment, turning away from. It is not the emotion-filled word we experience screaming, ‘I hate you.'” The call is to detach from all other relationships. They are inferior and insignificant in comparison to a relationship with Jesus and a disciple. The Message paraphrase of Luke 14 expresses these particular verses well: One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self! —can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14: 25-27, TM).

Again, quoting Fred Craddock: “What Jesus is calling for is that those who follow him understand that loyalty to him can and will create tensions within the self and between oneself and those one loves, and in such conflict of loyalties, he requires primary allegiance.” The large crowds followed Jesus, ever available to eat whatever he offered, ever drawing close to experience healing when he was near, ever seeking defense from the political/religious tyrants. He references the large crowds at other times as sheep without a shepherd, yet he tells them there en masse they’ll need to detach, let go of every significant relationship they have because he requires primary allegiance, an allegiance that compels us to do as he did – to carry a cross. Though he was on the road to Jerusalem, he was not heading to a coronation. He was heading to his own abandonment, indictment scourging, and crucifixion. A disciple cannot maintain familial and social relationships as primary while he or she accepts the cost of carrying a cross. We see no change in the description of the crowds that followed him in Luke. They still wanted to exalt a monarch. They were easily swayed by the intimidation of authorities. They met in likeminded gatherings and mourned together. These are characteristics of large crowds, but are they the same characteristics of disciples of Jesus Christ? 

A stranger moved to a new city and started looking around for a church to join. He was about to give up finding just the right one until one Sunday he dropped into a church and heard the preacher say, “We have left undone the things we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” The newcomer slipped into a pew, and with a sigh of relief, said to himself, “Thank goodness, I’ve found my crowd at last.”

We may say, “I can’t carry a cross like Jesus did.” You can’t carry my cross, and I can’t carry yours. Jesus’ cross was the cross of redemption for all the world. He bore the sins of us all on his cross. You and I are not the salvation for anyone, but we learn from him. We serve and bless and declare his grace and truth in word and deed. We cannot do that without letting go of our own agendas and detaching from our primary relationships in order to cling to Jesus first and share his love in service first. That’s our cross. Your cross and my cross are in association with our giftings, what you can do to share his love in service with passion because God has given those gifts to you, and you want to make a difference and accept the cost of being his alone. 

We may say this: “I have finished all I’m going to do. I can’t do anything else.” That’s not up to you. Why? Jesus said, “What king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able. . . ” Sometimes spiritual and other forms of warfare come looking for us. Jesus then told the large crowd they’ll have to consider if their able to oppose an opponent – not of flesh and blood but principalities and powers and rulers of this dark age. He then concluded this lesson by stating that none can become his disciple if we do not give up all we have, all of it detached and held loosely in our hands to be easily surrendered when opportunities arise to love and bless in Jesus’ name, and nobody said that’s easy, or without a cost.

Ah, hard sayings of Jesus on a beautiful Sunday morning on a Labor Day weekend. The large crowds grew smaller all-around Jesus. We know that, but our Lord is our comfort and our peace and will never leave us nor forsake us. I close with Paul from 1 Thessalonians 5 from The Message paraphrase: May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!

(Preached at St Mark UMC in Anniston, AL, September 4, 2022)

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