Counting costs: the cross

how much - question in letterpress typeCarry His Own Cross.  27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. The expression carry his own cross is a metaphor of discipleship. In terms of dedication, one is to live as already condemned to death, “oblivious to the pursuit of noble status, find no interest in securing one’s future via future obligations from others or by stockpiling possessions, free to identify with Jesus in his dishonorable suffering” [Green, 566].

Culpepper (293) presents a corrective to an interpretation of this phrase.

The language of cross bearing has been corrupted by overuse. Bearing a cross has nothing to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships. It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ. Cross bearing requires deliberate sacrifice and exposure to risk and ridicule in order to follow Jesus. This commitment is not just a way of life, however. It is a commitment to a person. A disciple follows another person and learns a new way of life.

Fools at Work and at War. 28 Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? 29 Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him 30 and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ 31 Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? 32 But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms

These two parables are unique to Luke and are without parallel. Jesus draws attention to a simple observation: a prudent person would not begin a project until being sure it can be finished – neither a builder nor a king. In the first parable Jesus says, “Sit down and consider whether you can afford to follow me.” In the second he says, “Sit down and surmise whether you can afford to refuse my demands.”  In the same way, God has not entered a redemptive process without being prepared to complete it. Jesus did not set his face to Jerusalem (9:51) knowing and being prepared for his own Passion.

The two parables move from the lesser to the greater. In the first, the threat is that of embarrassment before one’s peers and neighbors. In the second, the consequence is the defeat at the hands of an enemy. In continuing the movement to the even greater, the implication is that such assets as one’s network of family or simply membership in a religious tradition is inadequate to assure one’s status before God. What is required is fidelity to God’s only Son.


Luke 14:27 not carry his own cross: Luke’s use of heautou (his own) stresses the need for a personal acceptance of the role. Understood here is the each of Luke 9:23 “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Although we read about Simon of Cyrene carrying a cross, the words used for his actions (airo in Mt and Mk and phero in Luke) are different from the word in this text (bastazo).

Luke 14:29 unable to finish: in the narrow door text (Lk 13:22-24), the seeker is not strong enough to enter through the narrow door. Here the builder is unable (lit. “not strong enough”) to finish the building. When we can finally admit that “I can’t,” then we are open to God’s “I can”.

Luke 14:31 king…another king advancing upon him: this recalls the battle between the kingdoms suggested in Luke 11:18-20

ask for peace terms: literally, “ask for the things leading to peace.”

Luke 14:33 renounce all his possessions: The word translated “renounce” is apotasso. The other occurrence of this word in Luke comes in 9:61, where another would-be follower says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” Usually apotasso is translated, “farewell” or “good-bye”.


  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 291-4
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 563-8
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©

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