‘Cost’ is a four-letter word.
In fact, when salespeople are being trained to sell everything from pick-up trucks to carpet cleaning services, they are taught never to use words like ‘cost’, ‘price’, and ‘expense’. This is because it places the focus what is being exacted, or taken, in the transaction. No one likes to think about the cost. Yuck. Instead, salespeople are taught to use words like ‘value’, ‘investment’, and ‘worth’ because these words focus on what is being received. They want us to feel like we ‘got our money’s worth’. They want us to feel good, not about spending, but about the added value we receive when we spend.
Jesus wasn’t a good salesperson. He used the word ‘cost’ in some key teachings when challenging his followers to make a commitment to follow him. But, then again, the relationship we are supposed to have with Jesus isn’t a sales transaction, although many of us… even faithful Christians, have sometimes treated it like a transaction.
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25-35 NRSV)
‘Counting the cost’, in Jesus’ terms, is not about whether or not we are anticipating receiving ‘a good value’ for our life investment in following Jesus, it’s about whether or not we can commit to living like Jesus does, and to giving like Jesus does.
The road to eternal life must travel to and through the sacrifice of the cross. On the cross, Jesus gave everything… even his life. To share in Jesus’ life, we have to be committed to sharing in Jesus’ death (to give everything). Try as we might, there are no deals, no coupons, no rain checks, no haggling that changes this: 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Matthew 16:24-26 NRSV)