SOME FRANK TALKING FROM JESUS
1 Kgs 19:16B, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Jesus was a person who possessed tact and timing in his approach to people. He knew when someone could handle the truth and when a person could not. That, notwithstanding, he was sometimes very blunt and also direct, as can be found in today’s gospel. Jesus is someone who would not “TALK ABOUT YOU” to people, but would “TALK TO YOU” directly. Dealing with such people, you done have to wonder if they are angry at you or not, because they address problems rather than stew over them.
1. JESUS “RESOLUTELY SETS OUT” FOR JERUSALEM
Luke tells us, at the beginning of today’s gospel: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:51) The idiom of “resolutely setting out” indicates a determination to accomplish a task. Jesus was focused on the task before Him. He knew the cross was ahead yet he moved forward with determination. Considering what Jesus was already achieving, and how many people looked up to him for one benefit or the other, going to Jerusalem (the path to the cross) was not an easy task. His work was changing the lives of many people all around him. Many depended on him. This would have been a plausible excuse for Jesus to divert from the path leading to the cross because: the disciples were not quite ready; his death would bring heartache to his disciples and to his mother; his capture would even give his enemies a cause to rejoice of his “apparent weakness”, etc. Jesus had tons of reason it was better for Him NOT TO GO TO JERUSALEM. However, he refused to be distracted. He saw the big picture. He stayed focused on his goal of honouring the Father and accomplishing his work.
If we want to be faithful disciples of Jesus, we must have that same kind of focus like Jesus. In our daily lives, we surely have had tasks that we need to do, but we are often not eager to perform them. In our inner feeling, we would rather do anything else than that given task. Nonetheless, we have to push forward and do what is expected of us. It may be, one has to deliver some bad news; or admit a mistake of ours; or pass some unpleasant decision to an employee. In each case we are quite certain that if we start making excuses we would never do what needed to be done. Therefore, the message is: focused on what is needed to be done and did it, in spite of distractions.
2. JESUS AND THE DISTRACTED DISCIPLES
In the next section of the gospel text (Lk 9:52-56). Jesus sends his disciples into Samaria because it was the most direct route to Jerusalem. Since, the Jews and Samaritans did not get along with each other, due to some long-standing family feuds, they find themselves unwelcome. When the disciples were not welcomed, they reported the social slight to Jesus and asked if they should call down fire from heaven and wipe them out.
While Jesus was focused on the goal, the disciples were ready to give up their mission at the first distraction. They were easily distracted by personal offense. They over-reacted and came to conclusions that were not warranted. If we think about it, we would realize that we often do the same. We conclude that an unbeliever is hardened beyond redemption (remember Paul?); a wayward child is a “lost cause”; a student is “hopeless”; a member of our association is “indifferent” (or “uncommitted”) because he\she does not share our passions; a church is bad because it does not share our doctrine; a person is lazy because he\she does not do what we want them to do. When we draw such conclusions, then we have lost sight of the goal. Our challenge is to see the image of God in others. Stay focused on the goal! We must be careful of hasty and distracting conclusions.
3. JESUS ENCOUNTERS THREE OTHER DISTRACTED PEOPLE
In the next part of the gospel text, Jesus encounters three different people, with each of them facing an obstacle that distracts them from focusing on their intention to serve God. Each one of them needed to overcome his before he could serve the Lord adequately.
a) The distraction of comfort. “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Lk 9:57-58). The first man had probably seen the crowds, heard the teaching of Jesus, and maybe even witnessed a miracle or two. He may have wanted to be part of the “action”, and so wanted to be part of the team. He saw the glamour and the fame but he did not see the price tag. Think of any of the big open-air shows that you may have attended or the successful harvest thanksgiving festivals that your parish has been organizing successfully. They always look marvelous and attractive, but people often fail to see the days, weeks, months of years of hard work, long and strenuous hours of rehearsals, the setting up and taking down of equipment, etc. They do not see the challenge of getting along with difficult team members in such close quarters. You see; we can be good admirers of ‘finished products’ without counting the cost of labour behind them.
Jesus tackles the first man, by doing a reality check with him. Jesus lets him know that life on the road with him is hard. There are constant demands. Sometimes sleep is fleeting. Opposition is ever present. Discipleship is not glamorous. If our following Jesus has not brought discomfort to our lives, then something is definitely wrong. Jesus reminds us that true discipleship means we must be willing to serve him even though doing so will at times be uncomfortable. If anyone is looking for a comfortable faith, he/she should withdraw his/her application to be one of the followers of Christ.
b) The second man had to overcome the distraction of previous commitments. “Jesus said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:59-60). Jesus initiated the conversation with this man. He called (commanded) the man to follow Him. The man’s response seemed reasonable, “Let me bury my father first.” It sounds like the young man was in the middle of planning a funeral and simply wanted to finish his responsibility to his father. We sympathize with him there! However, it is also possible that the man’s father was not yet dead, and so what he is really saying is, “Lord, I will follow you as soon as dad dies (even if it is years from now) and the family property shared.”
Jesus’ response frank and direct: “let the dead bury their own dead.” Now Jesus is not telling us to forego family responsibilities. The emphasis is that when we fulfill family obligations it should be OUT OF obedience to Jesus, not INSTEAD OF obedience to Christ. This man needed to make Christ his highest priority. We feel guilty here because we often use different forms of this excuse all the time. We tell Jesus that we will be glad to follow Him: as soon as the kids are out of school; as soon as we go on retirement; as soon as life is a little less hectic; when we get some free time or when our busy time at work is over.
Life is filled with choices. When we choose one thing over following Jesus, it makes it that much easier to choose another again. When one obstacle is removed, there will always be another standing in our way. William Barclay, the biblical scholar, observes: “The point Jesus was making is that in everything there is a crucial moment; if that moment is missed the thing most likely will never be done at all. The psychologists tell us that every time we have a fine feeling, and do not act on it, the less likely we are to act on it at all. The emotion becomes a substitute for the action. Take one example—sometimes we feel that we would like to write a letter, perhaps of sympathy, perhaps of thanks, perhaps of congratulations. If we put it off until tomorrow, it will in all likelihood never be written. Jesus urges us to act at once when our hearts are stirred.” We feel quite spiritual and noble in our desires but the problem is that it is just talk! Good intentions are not the same thing as discipleship.
c) The distraction of family obligations. There is a third man, “Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:61-62). The man does not seem to make an unreasonable request either. He said he wanted to follow Jesus but he needed to first say good-bye to His family. Is that not what Elisha also requested to Elijah in the first reading of today? However, Jesus uses the image of plowing to tackle the man. Before the age of computer mapping technology, a farmer planted rows by focusing on some point ahead of him as he/she drove the plow. If the farmer spent his/her time looking behind, then the row would be all over the place!
Once more, Jesus is not telling us to neglect our families. He is telling us that we need to be led by the Lord not by the demands, schedules or calendar of our family and friends. We can discipline ourselves and our families to put the Lord first or we can allow our families to so enslave us that we continually push the Lord to the side. One often hears people all the time saying “You know, family comes first.” This sounds spiritual and noble, but if we actually mean these words in the ultimate sense, then we are living a life of confused priorities and are guilty of idolatry. Our families have replaced God in our lives. The best thing we can do for our family is put Jesus first in our family!
We can guess what would have happened to this man when he went home before following Jesus (because it happens to us). His family would beg him to stay just a little longer. There would be one more chore to finish or one more obligation to meet. He would never get around to serving the Lord. When we put our family before the Lord, our service to the Lord will get pushed further and further to the sidelines. We must remember that we do what is best for our family when we put the Lord first in our family.
4. WHAT WAY FORWARD?
Jesus was always frank whenever he was explaining what discipleship means. In following Jesus Christ, our goal should be to have the kind of focus that Jesus had rather than give in to the distractions that we see in the disciples and the three men in today’s gospel. Jesus showed us that DISCIPLESHIP IS NOT ABOUT EXERCISING POWER AND AUTHORITY OVER OTHERS; it is to follow, serve, and trust the Lord above everything else in our lives. We must put Him above our comforts, our commitments and even our families.
Jesus calls us to follow in spite of job demands, frustrations, or even great opportunities. It is a huge commitment. These are strong demands. We devote ourselves to many things in life: a sport or hobby; a television program that we “never miss”; our job; getting the best education; and we even devote ourselves to winning the acceptance of our friends. These things are not necessarily bad things. But the issue is: Are these the BEST things? To follow the Lord means taking a different course from that of the rest of the world, including our friends and family.
We would all like to soften Jesus’ commands. We would like to plead that our situation should be the exception. However, we have no right to soften his requirements. We cannot simply erase them or run away from them. We need to face these truths and adjust our lives accordingly. In our text Jesus speaks frankly: “don’t call yourself my disciple, don’t claim to be my follower, unless you are willing to really follow.” To many, these words seem harsh. But they are not actually harsh. They are simply not what we want to hear. Jesus is not in the business of developing fans. He is not looking for half-heartedness. He is looking for those who will love and trust him enough to be his followers. To this effect, St. Paul tells the Galatians in the second reading of today, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
Sorry, for the frank talking! The best course is for us to listen, make the necessary changes, and be happy with him here on earth and in heaven, after.