I am a Jewish girl from a good Jewish family. Like many Jewish parents, mine hoped I would achieve great things. In my case, as I was an aspiring flutist in college, they were sure that one day I would be a famous musician!
But in May 1981 I had to share something with them that would dramatically affect our relationship. When my father came to pick me up from college to bring me home for the summer, I knew it was the right time to tell him that I now believed in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
To my parents, believing in Jesus was an unthinkable act, tantamount to betraying them and my heritage. My father was extremely disappointed. My mother was so angry that she shouted at me, “I would have rather had you come home and tell us that you were pregnant, on drugs or flunking out of school. This is the worst thing you could do to us!” For months, my parents barely spoke to me. I keenly felt the loneliness of being cut off. I knew that my parents would not be at all pleased with my decision. But knowing that I might lose them, I also knew I had to follow what I believed, no matter what.
My parents couldn’t accept what I had done. They felt I was no longer Jewish because of my faith. I strongly disagreed because, from my perspective, what could be more Jewish than believing in the Jewish Messiah? We maintained a relationship of sorts throughout my college years, but the breaking point came after I graduated with my master’s degree in flute performance. Rather than pursue music in secular venues, I decided to join the Liberated Wailing Wall, a Jewish music team that was part of Jews for Jesus. My parents were so upset with my choice that they convinced me to see an anti-missionary* who tried to “deprogram” me. They couldn’t understand that my decision to follow Jesus was my choice, that no one had coerced me into believing. The anti-missionary didn’t convince me to abandon the Messiah, and this drove a wedge between me and my parents. While they never had an official funeral for me, they considered me dead to them. For the next several years, my parents wanted nothing to do with me. While I had counted the cost of my decision beforehand, my parents’ response still left me sad and lonely. Having grown up in a Jewish home, I always considered family very important. I wondered how I was going to live my life without the family I loved.
“Count the cost”—what does this phrase even mean? If you have ever had your eye on a big-ticket item such as a large flat-screen TV, a car or a vacation, then you know that you need to have the money to pay for what you want. You can buy on credit, but it’s going to cost you somewhere down the line. And “counting the cost” of the most important things in life—relationships, spiritual matters, ethical concerns—means calculating the consequences that will come about after a decision or action is made. It also entails understanding that our choices will impact those around us, including those we care about the most. There were consequences to my decision. I was considered the black sheep of the family. This hurt me deeply. And even though I had anticipated the consequences, that didn’t make it any easier.
In the Bible, there are many examples of people who were willing to go to great lengths to follow their destiny, though the cost was high. They had a relationship with God that compelled them to act in a way that was pleasing to Him. The prophet Jeremiah spoke the truth to kings who didn’t want to hear it. His life was threatened, and eventually he was forced to leave his homeland. He died away from home.
In good company
Another prophet, Ezekiel, predicted the violent fall of Judah and Jerusalem. This was not a popular message either. God even asked him to “act out” in public what was going to happen to Judah and Jerusalem by lying on his side with his face turned away from Jerusalem. Those who witnessed this gesture hated Ezekiel and his message.
Moses was called to lead a stubborn group of people who were bent on committing idolatry and who often didn’t have much faith. Most of the disciples in the New Testament suffered rejection and were martyred for their faith in the Messiah. Every hero in the Bible had to count the cost of going against the status quo.
Yeshua (Jesus) knew the high cost of following him. He quoted Micah 7, saying:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34–39)
After I lost my relationship with my family, I took comfort in passages like this one. I also recognized that the cost to me was far less than what it was to the Bible heroes I read about. It showed me that my experience of loss was not abnormal, that I was not alone. And the cost I would pay would pale in comparison to what I would receive, for Yeshua also said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
Did Jesus say to hate your parents?
Anti-missionaries use verses like the above to claim that Yeshua taught people to hate their fathers and mothers. It’s clear from Jesus’ own life that was not the case. For example, we read what Jesus said as he was dying: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26–27). Jesus wanted to see that his mother was taken care of by his closest friend when he was no longer going to be there to do so himself. I’m convinced he dearly loved his earthly family!
However, Jesus taught our love for God must come first. This is not an un-Jewish concept, for loving God has always been central to the Jewish faith. The Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5, says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
How can we love God? Loving God means, first of all, doing so in the way He wants to be loved. He gets to define how we have a relationship with Him, not us. If someone brings me chocolate for my birthday and I am allergic to chocolate, the result of my eating that chocolate isn’t a good thing, even if the thought behind the gift is genuine. Similarly, we can say we genuinely love God, but it needs to be expressed on His terms.
Truly loving God means we must count the cost of doing so. Anything truly worth having comes with a price. If you want to be a lawyer or physician or architect, you will spend years in school learning your craft. You pay a cost in money, time and energy. But, in the end, you get to do what you love.
The friend who sticks closer than a brother
Following Yeshua will mean going against the flow of the values and priorities of the world. It may cost us relationships with family and friends, our reputations and opportunities. We might encounter suffering, heartache and rejection. But God will never desert us. Even in my darkest times of feeling alone because of my faith, God has always been right there with me. Sometimes, the more painful the experiences I go through, the sweeter my relationship with God becomes. We can count on His comfort and companionship always.
Yeshua also encountered suffering, heartache and rejection. In the Hebrew Scriptures in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, there is a passage that foreshadows the suffering the Messiah would endure on our behalf. This author believes this passage speaks of Yeshua:
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)
Jesus counted the cost and paid the price for you and me. Through his sacrifice, our sins can be forgiven (“he shall bear their iniquities”), and we can have a relationship with God forever (“accounted righteous”).
If Yeshua truly is the Jewish Messiah, then we will pay a price for whatever decision we make. Believing in him or rejecting him has consequences. For me, it meant that for several years I lost my relationship with my family. The security I felt being a daughter to my parents was gone. But Yeshua said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Loving God and believing in His son, Yeshua, might mean we lose some close relationships here on earth. But we will also gain a whole new family of those who also have put their trust in Yeshua. And we will never lose our relationship with God, now or in the world to come. Isn’t that worth it?
* In the context of the Jewish people, an anti-missionary is one who seeks to keep Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah from sharing that message with other Jews, and/or one who combats that effort with counter-arguments through counseling services, lectures, seminars, classes and educational materials.
Postscript: My relationship with my parents today is dramatically different from what it was. They still disagree with the choices I’ve made, but they respect me and yes, they love me and are proud of me.