10. Unfinished Business

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 10. Unfinished Business

Luke 14:28-30: The Unfinished Tower: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Luke 14:31-32: The Unwaged War: “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Stepping Back: These two ‘mini-parables’ have made me step back and ponder afresh the whole concept of parables. Why? Because they seem so simple! Perhaps it is just the presence of the Holy Spirit, but when I view such parables as this, I ask myself, why does anyone have trouble understanding these? They are so simple and straight forward. Now, OK, maybe that is not true of every parable and I have made the point again and again that it helps to observe the context or setting for each parable, but having done that, I confess to feeling slightly perplexed as to why people might struggle with these things.

Paul wrote something of this to the Corinthians: “But the unspiritual man simply cannot accept the matters which the Spirit deals with—they just don’t make sense to him, for, after all, you must be spiritual to see spiritual things. The spiritual man, on the other hand, has an insight into the meaning of everything, though his insight may baffle the man of the world.” (1 Cor 2:14,15 JBP version) If you are a Christian with the indwelling Holy Spirit, you really should not need notes such as these – they should just act as a provocation to you to write your own notes. A while ago I was visiting a church in the USA where the pastors every Wednesday evening spend an hour explaining scripture. Why are you doing this, I asked, why aren’t you teaching your people to dissect the word of God for themselves. And there I stand condemned for I provide these for you who are reading this, I never explain how to do it yourself. I think I hope that my example, the way I go about these things, will provoke you to do your own studies.

The Content of the two parables:

  • first there is the thought of building a tower.
  • Jesus suggests you will sit down first of all and work out how much it will cost and do you have the money to do it.
  • if you lay the foundations and then run out of money and have to stop, you will look foolish.
  • then there is the idea of a king contemplating going to war.
  • before he undertakes it he will consider whether his army is big enough to defeat the enemy.
  • if he finds he is outnumbered he will sue for peace before having to fight – and lose!

The Punchline and Purpose: Now the punchline that follows is not what I suspect we would expect: “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”  The Message version puts it, “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”  Now having just said what I’ve said about it appearing obvious, I am now going to have to eat my words. How does this conclusion come from these two illustrations?  The two stories both seem to say the same thing: carefully think about what you are about to embark upon before you start building something or entering into a conflict. Are you prepared to fully enter into this?

There is an amazing series found on British TV called ‘Grand Designs’ which follows different people who have planned to build the house of their dreams. We are not talking about ordinary houses here, but spectacular ones, often taking an old building and converting it. In almost every program each couple, for it usually is a couple, run out of money part way through, take more time than planned to complete, and go through amazing stress before they achieve what so often turn out to be incredible buildings. Sometimes the presenter asks afterwards, “If you had known how much stress it was going to cause you, would you have embarked on this project?” Sometimes the answer is no, but sometimes the answer is, yes, in the light of the amazing end product we have.

And So? And so these parables are a bit different from usual because Jesus uses them to make the obvious point – don’t embark on something unless you are sold out on it. With that background, he then adds that incredibly powerful punchline – at least powerful when seen in the light of the parable –   if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you…, you can’t be my disciple. Think about it before your say lightly, Oh, yes I want to be a Christian. Look, it will cost you everything – your old life, your ambitions, the hopes you might have had previously, your pride and what people will say about you. If you see that what you have is not worth holding onto, go for it. Be aware of what you are and then – go for it, whole-heartedly! Got it?