First, let's begin with Jesus' words:
Luke 14:26-27: Jesus explains what itmeans to be a disciple: "“If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.Jesus' words are hard to hear, but easy to understand: disciples must learn to love Christ above all else.
But there might be a deeper level of meaning here.
Jesus' words that one must reject everything--kin and all else--in order to become his disciple evokes the description of the Levites in the Old Testament.
What was it that the Levites had to do in order to obtain the priesthood?
The story is found in Exodus 32. There, while Moses is up on Mt. Sinai the Israelites do the unthinkable--they worship a golden calf. We all know what happens next. Moses comes down the mountain and asks, "Who is on the Lord’s side?" (Exod 32:26). The Levites respond. At Moses' direction they go through the camp and slay all the idolatrous Israelites. Indeed, the Levites were not to spare anyone. While it is mere speculation, one could well imagine that some of those they had to kill were people they knew.
In fact, this may be implied in what Moses says after they have accomplished their mission:
"And Moses said, 'Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, that he may bestow a blessing upon you this day'" (Exod 32:29)
Later, when Moses blesses the tribe of Levi in Deuteronomy 33 we read something similar. The following is taken from the Septuagint's version of Deuteronomy 33:9: “The one saying to his father and his mother ‘I have not seen you’ and his brother he did not acknowledge and his children he disowned.”
Moreover, unlike the other tribes, Levi is given no land--no "inheritance"--in the Promised Land. The reasoning is given in Deuteronomy 10:9:
"Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him" (cf. also Num 18:20, 23; Deut 18:1-2; Neh 13:10).
The Levites are priests but only at the cost of kin and property.
Indeed, the similarities are striking. The Levites have had to renounce ("he did not acknowledge") their own family members--father, mother, brother. Likewise, Jesus explains that his disciples must renounce "father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters".
His disciples therefore are called to be spiritual priests. In this his disciples fulfill the original vocation of Israel, described in Exodus 19:6: "you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." However, because of their idolatry the priesthood went only to the Levites.
1 Peter explains that this vocation now belongs to believers: " But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9).
Believers are called to be priests. But what does it mean to be a priest? Hebrews 8:3 helps here: "every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices." A priest offers sacrifices.
If believers are called to be priests they are called to offer a sacrifice--themselves.
Romans 12 explains: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1).
Believers fulfill their vocation through offering up their own lives as sacrifices--especially by suffering. 1 Peter goes on to make this clear:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God... 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet 4:1-2, 12-13).
A few days ago I wrote a post on the Church as the Heavenly Temple. I cited Peter's words about the Church as a spiritual temple. I believe this post is related to that theme. Discipleship means priesthood--it means self-sacrifice.
Or in Jesus' words: "Take up your cross and follow me."
(For more on the priestly themes of Luke 14 see Cripsin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “Jesus Inspects His Priestly War Party (Luke 14:25-33),” in The Old Testament in the New Testament. Essays in Honour of J.L. North (ed. S. Moyise; JSNTS 189; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 126-143.)