‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
The King at War and the Unfinished Tower
Throughout the ages, nations have gone to war with high spirits — patriotic crowds, a confident military, soldiers filled with martial spirit, politicians predicting easy victory over a weak enemy. Then the costs come home. Setbacks, civilian casualties, prolonged suffering. As a wise general once said, no war plan survives the first battle.
Jesus offers a stark warning to those seeking to engage in spiritual warfare as one of his disciples. Count the costs, he says, in a parable about a king waging war who must ask himself whether he can has really estimated the power of his enemy before going to the front. Similarly, in another parable, Jesus consequences to a farmer of not calculating the cost when constructing a tower in your vineyard:
Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him’ (Luke 14:29).
Christianity has always been a faith that seeks to evangelize others. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ said the Resurrected Jesus (Matthew 28:19). Yet this same Jesus was never short of warnings about the price of discipleship, declaring
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14: 27)
Needless to say, Jesus himself set the example. He who would build the Kingdom of God, He who would battle against the forces of sin, evil and death that had overcome humankind, endured 40 days in the wilderness to overcome temptation. He counted the cost and paid the price.
What exactly is the cost of discipleship? It is the end of self and submission to the will of God. It means a new set of loyalties and values, setting our sights on the things above, not the things of this earth. Yes, but how great are rewards of discipleship!
By your endurance you will gain your souls (Luke 21:19)
Yet when it comes to discipleship, costs are not Jesus’ final words. Nor for that matter, are its rewards. Rather, Jesus emphasizes that, for his disciples, he will always be with them, to comfort and guide them.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29)
Our final words on this subject are perhaps best expressed by St. Peter. As the crowds turned away from Jesus because his teachings were difficult, he asked his disciples if they too would desert him. Peter answered
Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68)