Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”Jesus has some pretty clear ideas about discipleship. It is we who struggle with our lives and how we want to live them in the light of his Gospel. We see similar struggles with the disciples as they follow Jesus, we see it in Paul’s letters as he tries to help those new communities understand the faith be it in Galatia or elsewhere. Today, we endeavor to follow Jesus in a culture that fights against such discipleship.
I recently read about a meeting a pastor had in his office with a young man feeling conflicted about the decisions confronting him:
"He felt pretty clear about the sort of material success he was after, but uncertain about everything else. So I asked him what he thought he was committed to. What path did he think he was on? Could he describe it? He warned me that he wasn't going after some sappy religious angle. Sappy or not, I countered that everyone has a religion. Everyone functions from a grand operating principle whether or not they admit it. Mostly that principle can be inferred by the wake they leave behind as they pass through their lives. The tangible content of our commitments tells the tale for all of us, notwithstanding what we say. I suggested he check out the wake he was currently leaving behind, or if he was brave, ask a couple of others what they saw there. Did he want to hear the evidence of what his wake revealed?" (Simple Truths: Our Values, Civility, and Our Common Good by the Rev. Stephen Bauman )What is our wake? Is it the values of our culture: wealth, power, prestige. Or is it the values that Jesus challenges us to have when we follow him. For as one author put it:
“Jesus' Gospel is not a collection of pious words we commit to memory; it is a spirit-centered attitude and perspective to which we commit our lives. We cannot be disciples by being mere spectators of God's presence; authentic discipleship calls us to become involved in the hard work of making the reign of God a reality.” (Jay Cormier)To follow Jesus is not a series of thou shall not do this or that, but it is walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Consider today’s readings, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, along the way they stop at a Samaritan village but were not received because Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. James & John ask if they should call down fire upon their village, but Jesus rebukes them. That is not how they should be as a disciples, calling down the fire of God.
When Jesus encounters others along the road who want to become his followers, he challenges each of them: To the first, it is reminder that Jesus has no place to lay his head, It is as if Jesus is saying that there is no place that Jesus does not dwell. Jesus does not rest in any one place. To another, he challenges them to let others lay the dead to rest, to instead go and proclaim the kingdom of God. To the final one, Jesus tells them they can’t look back, settle their affairs and then follow him, no, discipleship means you follow him, right now in the midst of our chaotic lives. No time to get things in order. It is to see a need, hear a call and to go and do.
I remember a story of a few years ago, about a Fulbright scholar who went to South Africa during apartheid, she went there to help. One day, she was murdered by those she was trying to help. Instead of seeking retribution or revenge, her parents sought to forgive the murderers and to bring life out of her tragic death by continuing her work there. "There is hardly a family in the township that has not been touched by violence."
That is love and that is the type of discipleship Jesus is talking about. Discipleship is not about what we do on the easy days, it’s about following Jesus even on the hardest days. Then we will see what our wake is really made of…
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”or
“Here, Lord, is my life. I place it on the altar today. Use it as You will.”from Albert Schweitzer –