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 how we are to follow him. To follow Jesus is not a series of thou shall not do this or that, but it is walking in Jesus’ footsteps and living out of his love.
Consider today’s Gospel reading from Luke, 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, he tells them that Jesus has no place to lay his head. This will not be an easy journey but it could well mean that 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 your chaotic lives.
Similarly we struggle with our lives and how we want to live them in the light of his Gospel, much like the disciples. We see similar struggles in Paul’s letters as he tries to help those new communities understand the faith be it in Galatia or elsewhere. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus not only in good times but down roads full of despair, violence and even death.
He peddles his bicycle through the dangerous hills and impassable forests of Afghanistan. Strapped to the back of his bicycle is a large box, filled with something of extraordinary value to the villagers of these war scarred mountains. Books.
Saber Hosseini is a schoolteacher who knows that books are an unobtainable luxury for the children of Afghanistan. Hosseini started his deliveries six months ago with some 200 storybooks for children. With the help of friends, he has amassed a collection of over 6,000 books by authors such as Victor Hugo, Jack London, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, as well as Iranian writers and poets.
His group of "book bikers" has grown to 20, and their deliveries now include advanced books for adults. Every week Hosseini and company bring new books and take back the old ones to distribute to children and adults in other villages. Hosseini's book distribution project has earned him the love of hundreds of kids - and the wrath of the Taliban. He explains:
"We ride bikes for several reasons: first, we don't have enough money for cars. Second, some villages are only reachable by bike. And lastly, it's a bit symbolic - the Taliban have at times used bicycles in their bomb attacks, so the message I want to convey is that we can replace this violence with culture."
That is the dark side of Hosseini's work: he has been threatened by the Taliban who demand that he distribute only "Islamic" books. His wife had to give up her teaching job in a remote village when a Taliban plot to kill her was discovered. But despite the danger, the Hosseinis and their friends keep peddling.
"One time, I talked to children in a village about guns, using the slogan 'Say no to guns and yes to books.' The next time I went to their village, the kids had gathered up all of their plastic toy guns and handed them over to me - but they had one condition: they wanted their village to be the first in the next round of book deliveries so that they could get first pick. It was the most joyful moment of my life!
"These kids live such stressful lives. They live in a society that is full of death and violence, and they often face violence from their parents at home, too. Schools are rarely havens for them - many teachers are uneducated, and dish out physical punishments every day. So we want to keep delivering a bit of joy and calm in their lives through books." [The Observers, France 24.]
On their bicycles, with boxes of books, a teacher and his friends are doing nothing less than the work of God: the work of continuing to bring joy into villages isolated by fear, of refusing to let the darkness of arrogance and hatred extinguish the light of hope and peace in that ravaged country.
That is the work that Jesus challenges every one of us to put our faith into action. In today's Gospel, Jesus calls those who would be his followers a commitment to act, not by being mere spectators of God's presence; for authentic discipleship calls us to become involved in the hard work and courage of making the reign of God a reality in our time - regardless of the cost or difficulty or even the sacrifice we need to make.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and action.”
The fruit of such compassionate action is what we hear about in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free…For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but serve each other through love. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Live by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
In our freedom to follow Jesus, we are called to live by, be guided by & bear fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
“For the true aim of the Christian life is the reception of the (Holy) Spirit of God in our lives. As for fasts, vigils, prayer and almsgiving, and other good works done in the name of Christ, they are only the means of gaining the (Holy) Spirit of God. Note well that it is only good works done in the name of Christ that bring us the fruits of the Spirit.” Seraphim of Sarov
Discipleship is a spirit-centered attitude and perspective to which we commit our lives, living faithfully and impacting every sphere of our daily experience. May we put our faith in action & offer it to God, as Albert Schweitzer put it, “Here, Lord, is my life. I place it on the altar today. Use it as You will.” Amen.