This week the needs of the world rudely threatened to break through into our comfortable existence.
Mostly, they don't bother us with their "wars" and their "Third World Problems", but an attack on a Western nation suddenly woke us up to the reality that refugees face every day. Bombings, shootings, massacres - who knew they were so traumatic until we saw them happen to those who look like us?
Even the most ignorant of world affairs could hardly miss the crisis - since Facebook offered us the opportunity to say "I care about other people in the world" by putting the French flag on our Profile Picture. Thanks Facebook!
Then, inconveniently, Jesus asked us to say "I care about other people in the world" in a more costly way.
He said, "I'm a stranger. Will you welcome me in?"
What Jesus might not have realized, is that this call to welcome strangers is costly. Here we were thinking that Jesus died on the cross so we wouldn't have to die!?! Jesus suffered so that we wouldn't have to right? That's what I was taught at Sunday school - it's called substitution.
Jesus says, "Take up YOUR cross."
Dammit Jesus. This is why most of your followers, friends and subscribers left. You are destroying your platform with these hard sayings Jesus.
Jesus says, "Deny YOURself."
Deny myself? Are you kidding me? What exactly are you asking me to give up?
Let's start with these 3 things, the cost of following Jesus:
1. The cost of allegiance to your national/religious identity
In Luke 4, Jesus' ministry is off to a roaring start. He is the Next Big Thing.
Then, almost immediately, Jesus goes and blows it. He starts talking about how God's blessing is not just for the "People of God" but also for desperate foreigners - and not Christian foreigners, but pagans and heathens and followers of other evil religions!
Zarephath was a region known for Baal worship. Everyone listening that day would have known that. The Bible places Baal as Beelzebub, one of the fallen angels of Satan. It was a religion known for child sacrifice. Pretty evil, I'd say.
So, Jesus ASSURES us - He goes out of his way to point out that God's blessing is even for people from places like that. God's blessing is even for people of other religions - even the most death-dealing religions.
He smashes religious and national boundaries because His Kingdom will know no end.
It is not bound by our geo-political OR our religious identities.
Jesus is calling us to pledge allegiance - not to a flag or national identity that divides - but to the Kingdom of God that unites.
2. The cost of your safety and national security
But just in case the first point wasn't provocative enough, Jesus decides to rub it in. Jesus has more to say about how God is no respecter of "us and them" thinking.
Naaman was a commander of the King of Aram who was at war with Israel (2 Kings 6:8). In fact, Naaman only knew about the God of Israel because he had a prisoner of war working for him as a slave girl! (2 Kings 5:2) Talk about an enemy combatant!
So, Jesus goes out of his way to preach that God wants to bless an enemy combatant, a heathen and a Syrian of all things!? - through his people?
Come on Jesus - do you realize how dangerous it is to welcome enemies into our borders and offer them healing?
Surely not an enemy combatant from Syria? The cost is too high.
3. The cost of your very life
Jesus' words don't go down too well - to put it mildly. They never do in an environment where our "us and them" identity trumps God's Kingdom identity.
Jesus' words of radical inclusivity were like a red flag to the bull of nationalism. The people jumped up and dragged Jesus over to the edge of cliff where they were going to throw him off.
Ironically, the threat to Jesus' life comes not from the Baal-worshippers, or enemy combatants, but from religious insiders.
The fact is, if you choose to follow Jesus and place the needs of outsiders on a par with your own tribe's needs, sooner or later you will clash. That is why you cannot pledge allegiance to any Kingdom other than the Kingdom of God, which requires blessing and commitment to everyone - not just your own tribe, nation or religion.
To follow Jesus, to take up your cross, deny yourself and follow Him - will cost you everything. It will cost your allegiance to earthly citizenships. It will cost your habit of grasping after the safe option, idolizing national security at the expense of the well-being of others.
And in the end, yes, it may cost you your life.
Are you willing to pay the cost?