Scripture: Luke 9:51-62
Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Luke 9:58
When you are about to embark on some big life change, like getting married, or having your first child, or going to university, starting a new job or retiring from one – you will often be told by someone that your life will never be the same, it will change so tremendously that you’ll barely recognize it on the other side.
People have a tendency to speak in hyperbole, they use extreme words to highlight the seriousness of the situation – in reality your life will change, but you will still do things like you did before, parts of the old you will still be present even as you grow and change to meet your new reality.
Jesus often taught in hyperbole too, a lot of his teaching and sayings were over the top: like when he said just a little bit of faith could move mountains into the sea, or when he told the story of the man who was forgiven an astronomical debt, then turned around and practically killed another man for a mere pittance. In these situations, it is clear he was trying to emphasize a point, to make sure his listeners understood the seriousness or severity of the situation.
While we can certainly take the edge off and try to soften Jesus’ words when we realize that he often spoke in hyperbole, we also sometimes need to wrestle with them at face value – we can’t make too many justifications, or soften his words too much. Jesus is shocking – as much as we want to make him safe and approachable, talk about how he is our friend – a lot of what he said was shocking and was designed to get a response. There isn’t a lot of grey area with Jesus, you can’t be lukewarm – often the answer is a yes or a no. Will you follow, or will you not. Will you believe or will you not.
Our passage from the Gospel of Luke is one of these passages that we often try to soften and justify an easier reading, because on face value it is hard and Jesus comes off rather rude.
Our passage begins with the Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem, setting his face towards all that he must accomplish there, namely his death and resurrection, no big deal just the salvation of the whole world! And in his travels to Jerusalem he enters a Samaritan town and the people there don’t welcome him. James and John, his most impetuous disciples, are so incensed at the lack of hospitality and welcome for Jesus, that they ask if they should pray to bring fire and brimstone down upon the unbelieving sods that live there. But Jesus’ response is no, how could he consider destroying these people when he is on his way to save them along with the whole world, and so he rebukes the hard-heartedness of his disciples.
After that they enter another village, and this time they obviously get a better reception because, as we see in our reading, at least three people interact with Jesus and claim they want to follow him, or respond to his call of discipleship. And in each case Jesus is not particularly friendly in his response. To the first he says that the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head, suggesting following Jesus will be a hard road, with little of the comfort and security one has staying put. To the second, a person who only wanted to bury their father, Jesus says ‘let the dead bury their own dead!’. And to the last one, who only wanted to say farewell to their family, Jesus rebukes and says that no one who looks back is worthy of the Kingdom of God.
It seems like Jesus was trying to scare off his potential followers – he definitely wasn’t trying to win any popularity contests! If we were to infer from Jesus’ words that what it took to follow him faithfully was a homeless existence, where funerals and family ties were forbidden – we all would likely balk at Jesus’ call, and the whole Christian movement likely wouldn’t have taken off the way it did.
And so it is natural for us to soften Jesus’ words, after all the church has thrived and fulfilled its mission throughout history, even when people remained in their homes, kept in touch with their families and ensured their dead were well cared for and buried.
But while Jesus’ words might be a tad extreme the meaning behind them is clear – devotion to Jesus has to be the first priority. More important than our comfort, more important than our families, more important than even honouring our loved ones who have died. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a roof over our heads, or spend quality time with family, or attend funerals but that our commitment to Jesus shapes our lives more than those, that our decision to follow him has to take precedence over everything else, and influence the decisions we make in those areas.
We are allowed to love our families, but our love for God needs to be more – in fact our love of God, the way we serve God, should shape the way we love and serve our friends and family. The way we love and serve God should shape the way we do our work – our business decisions, the jobs we take should all be challenged and shaped by the good news of Jesus Christ.
Does the job we have hurt or oppress people? Does it actively destroy the environment, or spread injustice because of it’s business practices? If we take Jesus’ call seriously, then we need to re-evaluate whether that job is for us, or we need to work to change the business culture of the work place.
Does the way you spend your time and money reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you buy products that are made in sweat shops, oppressing the poor? Do you seek environmental sustainability or are you content with the pollution of the world for future generations? The call of following Jesus should impact our shopping and spending habits, it should impact how we spend our time and our talents – God’s priorities need to be our priorities.
Do you need to be busy all the time, using every hour and every day to work, or get something done around the house? Do you neglect God’s gift of Sabbath, and rest because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done? The call of following Jesus should impact the way we take rest, the way we refrain from letting worry overwhelm us.
Following Jesus as Teacher, Saviour and Lord is not a part-time past-time, it isn’t something we do on Sunday or that impacts merely our personal spiritual lives – it should impact every facet of our daily lives; our choice to follow Jesus should play a major role in every decision we make, in every relationship we have.
That is the kind of radical discipleship that Jesus called his would-be followers to in our passage today. To follow him they needed to reorient their lives around his ways, around God’s ways. The same is true for us in this day, if we want to follow him, our lives need to be oriented to his way, to his priorities. We cheat ourselves if we don’t – because if we don’t we don’t experience the fullness of God’s abundant life here and now, we don’t receive a full share of the blessings God has promised us – not because God isn’t continually offering them to us, but because our ways and our priorities stop us from receiving them fully.
Will you follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour? Will you let his life and his priorities, his way be the guiding star for your life?
We will stumble, we will fall – but the good news is that you can always get back up, you can always turn your life towards Christ, following him completely. We can do this by the power of the Holy Spirit, and with the help we offer to one another, through out prayers and worship, through our mission and service.
May you and I answer our Saviour’s call. And may we follow him in eternal and abundant life.
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