There are costs associated with being a follower of Christ, but the benefits are far greater.
On this date, August 28, 1833, the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. One provision of the Act was the payment of £20 million to reimburse slave owners for economic losses. That’s £70 billion today. Lest we be too surprised at the price tag, let us remember that our country fought an expensive civil war to accomplish the same outcome, and that we still deal with the racism today. Of course, there was more to the War Between the States than ending slavery, but it was one goal of the conflict. The Brits managed to abolish of slavery at a much lower cost.
Freedom for all British citizens didn’t happen overnight, but was the result of years of political negotiations that involved a complicated cost/benefit analysis. Such an analysis, known as a CBA, is a standard business practice. When business, government, or even families consider their expenses, they have to compare the value they hope to receive to the amount of money, time, or energy that will be required. There’s much more to a CBA, but this is the essence of a cost/benefit analysis: What am I going to get and how much is it going to cost?
Our Bible readings today point to a CBA of the practice we call discipleship. What benefits do we hope to receive for following Christ? How much will it cost? Is it worth it?
In Luke 14, Jesus attended a dinner at the home of a Pharisee. He watched the guests pick their seats, and he drew attention to the process. When we go to a wedding, Jesus advised, we should take a lower place rather than a higher place. If our hosts wish to honor us, they will give us a place of preference. That would be better than being asked to move to a less preferred seat.
Here the benefit is having a good seat. The cost, however, might be public shaming. In this CBA, it’s not worth it. Of course, Jesus was actually concerned about the value of humility over self-promotion, not getting a good seat at a social event.
In our day, self-promotion has a name. It’s Trumpism. I’m not making a political statement here. I’ll keep my voting preferences to myself, and you can keep yours, too. For our purposes here, however, it is worth noting that, in his book, The Art of the Deal, Mr. Trump wrote about the value of narcissism. This word is based on a Greek myth of a handsome young man who fell in love with his reflection and was turned into a flower called the narcissus. Mr. Trump has made much money selling licenses to use his name. He has to promote himself as rich, powerful, influential, stylish, etc. because that’s how he makes a living. Self-promotion is a business tool for Mr. Trump.
Jesus was saying that narcissism didn’t have much value as far as he was concerned. In his book, the last shall be first, and the end will be the beginning. Far from being self-promoting, Jesus promoted an other-centered life. This is best seen in the fact that he was willing to die for others that they might live. In this Cost/Benefit Analysis, Jesus saw great value in saving the lives of others even at the expense of his own. Unlike Narcissus, Jesus was not in love with himself: he was in love with us.
It’s that kind of life that Jesus recommended for his followers. If they were to give a banquet, he said, they shouldn’t just invite those who can pay them back. He advised them to include the poor and the disabled who can’t pay, then God would pay them back at the resurrection. There are good reasons that putting others ahead of oneself is to be preferred over putting oneself first as the way of following Christ.
First, putting others first is the example that Christ set for us. He didn’t ask anything of his disciples that he wasn’t willing to do himself. In the upper room on the night before he died on the Cross, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That wasn’t his job, but he did it anyway. When he was done, he said, “Now that I, whom you call Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Second, putting others first is consistent with living by grace through faith. In Romans 12:3 Paul wrote, “By the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” By grace through faith, we become disciples of Jesus, and these two virtues call us to a life of humility.
Third, putting others first is the best way to get ahead. This might seem counter-intuitive. The world tells us to “look out for #1,” and, “it’s every man for himself,” and “if we don’t look out for our own interests, nobody else will.” If we walk humbly with God, paying attention to the needs of others, there actually IS someone else who is looking out for our best interests. That person is Christ himself. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” wrote Peter in 1 Peter 5:6, “God will exalt you at just the right time.”
It cost Parliament a good deal of money to rid themselves of slavery, but it was worth it to ensure the freedom of every British citizen. It will cost us something humbly to follow the way of Christ by putting the needs of others ahead of our own, but in due time, God will exalt us.
We pray. Almighty God, Your Son has set an example for us in putting our needs ahead of his own. Now, by Your Spirit, help us to follow in the way He has led. Amen.