The Parables of Tower Builder and the King's War Plans
How much does it cost to be a disciple of Christ? We learn the answer in the mini-parables of the Tower Builder and the King's War Plan: Entering the kingdom of heaven is free, yet it requires everything of us. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the price for all of our sins. Yes, this is Christianity 101. Christ's work on the cross was not something we could ever do. He and only he could redeem us. However, we learn from these parables, as elsewhere, that we must also actively participate in the healing of the world. In fact, our relationship with Jesus enables us to directly assist in the consecration (making sacred) of the world.
When Adam and Eve chose to know death rather than life in the full, man and all of which is in his domain became desecrated. The process of undoing this act of desecration is what most of the Bible is about. The pivotal point in all of history is when Jesus redeemed the world with his death and resurrection.
But even now that Jesus has redeemed the world, there is still work to do. We work to clean up of the mess that we made. One way we participate in the healing of world is by being what Jesus calls salt of the earth, which is essentially being repentant. Then we can help to bring everything back to God through forgiveness, joy, charity and love.
In these parables which often fall under the heading "The Cost of Being a Disciple," we discover how to make peace with God and begin our true discipleship. First, in the Parable off the Tower Builder, Jesus explains that making things sacred is not something we can do on our own. Then, in the Parable of the King's War Plans, Jesus makes it clear that we can be a part of the plan to reconsecrate the world back to God, however, to be a part of that process, we must adhere to the terms of peace. But let's put on our sinner's ears and our repentant heart and try to understand exactly what Jesus is telling us.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Let's read the Parable of the Tower Builder first.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’"
On first take, I'm reminded of two stories in the Bible. The first is the Tower of Babel, where people tried to be like God by building a tower to heaven. But their plans were foiled by God. He made it so people could not understand each other and so the tower could not be finished. This parable also initially reminds me of the Parable of the House Built on Sand. When the storm comes the flood washes away the home.
Many people think the foundation on which the Tower Builder builds this house represents Christ himself. Under this widely-accepted interpretation, it follows that we need to make sure we can follow through in being disciples of Christ. However, none of us have the personal resources to follow through with being his disciples. This just can't be the meaning of this parable. I certainly can't do it with my resources.
But what if the tower represents us being our own god, like the Tower of Babel? Then the parable starts making sense.
I also find it interesting that on first glance it seems that Jesus is telling us to be concerned with what other people think. He seems to argue that "everyone who sees it will ridicule you" if you don't have the resources to finish your tower. Is Jesus telling us to be self-interested and concerned how we look to others? I doubt it. We are sinners. In a worldly-sense, Christians are a laughing stock already. We are incongruent to worldly ways. We are fools as Paul explains, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."
Jesus is explaining that we won't have enough money to complete the tower, just like the Tower of Babel. We are weak. We are not strong and on our own will never be able to build the tower. The Parable of the Wedding Banquet, just previous to this parable, explained who will enter the kingdom. "Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." These people certainly don't have the wits or abilities to finish building their tower.
So, if we can't build our own tower, what does he want us to do? This parable is coupled with the Parable of the King's War Plans for a reason, so we can understand what we need to do instead of building our tower.
"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace."
Again, we don't have the resources to fight our ten thousand men against twenty thousand men. None of us can defeat the opposing army, because the opposing army is Jesus and his heavenly army. We must humble ourselves. We must ask him for terms of peace as soon as we realize what's happening. So, we call out in prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner." He takes us into his fold and grants us peace.
But to understand these parables fully, we must resolve them in the surrounding context. At the end he says, "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples." The terms of peace is that we must stop our aggression toward his kingdom. We must stop sinning. And to do that we must let go of everything that fights him: all of our possessions, father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sister and our own life. Those are the strict terms of peace. But how many of us can really do that? Once again, we don't have the resources to be able to fulfill those terms. So, once again, we pray, "Forgive us our sins, Lord." But the parable is concluded with the odd statement:
"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out."
This is how we fulfill the terms of peace: by being salt of the earth. Having salt in us refers to being actively repentant and allowing God to cleanse us. We must let go of those things that get in our way. In Mark's gospel in relation to being salt of the earth, Jesus states, "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off." Active repentance is the terms of peace. We can't be a part of his kingdom if we're still warring against him in our sin.
For most if not all of us, our possessions get in our way. Western Christians have a big problem here. We justify having possessions for many reasons, but never look at the fact that for most of us, they are idols. The terms of peace that we have with the king is that we must "give up everything we have" to be in his kingdom. Our material wealth must not compete with our love of God, yet so often it does.
Likewise, our relationships with family members get in the way with our relationship with God. How often do we let anger get in the way of our discipleship? How often do we allow our desire to be accepted by others get in the way of our discipleship? How often to we let family dynamics get in the way of our relationship with God?
We must follow through with the terms of peace. He calls us to send a delegation while the other is "a long way off." How far off is the heavenly army and her king today?
Thankfully, we don't have the wits or resources, but we can continue to pray and ask for help fulfilling the terms of peace, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner." He will cleanse us. He will salt us with fire. We must actively participate in our cleansing—our consecration. We must choose to say "No!" to those things that prevent us from following through with our love of God. We must remove or run away from all those competing interests, and let nothing get in his way.