By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli

Here are two short parables that Luke groups together. Neither of them appears in the other gospels. Apparently, Jesus meant to convey the same message through them both. Sometimes that message is seen as negative. It is summarized in v. 33 and is shown to not be negative after all. Let’s look at these two parables to get an understanding of this point.

The first parable is found in vv. 28-30. It might be called “The Parable of the Unfinished Tower.” As was often His custom, Jesus introduces it with a “Which of you?” question that expects the answer “No one.” The question is whether a person would start building something without first making sure he has enough to complete it. Obviously, no rational person would do so. Otherwise he might wind up with a building left unfinished. This would make him an object of ridicule.

Near my house there sits the unfinished foundation of an incomplete house. It has been conspicuous for at least 15 years with nothing built on it! I don’t know the story behind that one but the builder apparently was like the builder in the parable. He didn’t make sure to start with enough resources to complete the work.

The second parable is found in vv. 31-32. It is introduced by the same kind of question that expects the same kind of answer. Only here the setting is warfare. Will a ruler make war against another without first determining if his forces have a chance?

In this instance there are more details. Here is a king under threat from another king with 20,000 troops under his command. Unfortunately, he himself only has 10,000 soldiers to meet the opposing army in battle. He may decide that he has enough advantages—superior forces, home turf, better weapons, etc. If so, he may elect to go to war. But if he considers all the cost and knows defeat is certain, he may choose a wiser path like sending ambassadors to learn the terms of peaceful surrender.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to interpret these apart from their context which includes both vv. 25-27 and the summary in v. 33. The parables are wrapped in Jesus’ teaching about the cost of being a disciple. Without space for detailed comment here, what Jesus says is that one must do the following:

1. Turn away from family.

2. Set aside his desires.

3. Bear his own cross after Him.

4. Forsake all he has.

This is the cost of being Christ’s disciple. I need to mention some additional points about discipleship.

1. Being a disciple is the same as being a Christian.

2. Being is not the same word as becoming.

3. “Hate” doesn’t mean malice. Following God in wholehearted love is the primary motive. Our love for Him makes our love for anything else seem like hate.

4. Bearing one’s cross doesn’t mean carrying a difficult burden. The cross was a means of execution. For us, the statement means that we carry along our own “electric chair” or “gas chamber” as we follow Christ. If anyone wishes to put us to death in following Him, we can as much as say, “That’s all right, I have the lethal injection ready right here.”

So what is the main idea Jesus wanted us to learn from the parables? Jesus was not saying it is okay to opt out of discipleship if we decided it would be too hard for us. Jesus was not trying to discourage people from following Him. There are times that He did do some discouraging. In such times that He did do so he in order to test their resolve. But that doesn’t seem to fit the circumstances here. More likely, Jesus is saying that we must realize the cost and live our Christian lives in awareness of that cost.

We must also be willing to pay it. We do not “take up the cross” blindly, but neither do we allow our awareness of the expense to cause us hesitation. Having counted the cost, we follow Him. This way, having counted the cost we realize we can follow through and finish the task. We know we can have the victory. We know that we must fully rely on God to help us; we cannot trust ourselves alone. God will give us eternal victory; all He asks is that we give Him all we have.