Today’s Gospel in Luke tells us Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem. We know that Jerusalem was the site of the crucifixion. Jesus knew that the road was sparsely travelled and dangerous. We might imagine it to be like trying to travel through the war-torn zone in Ukraine. Perhaps Jesus was joined on this road by the disciples and, along the way, he invited other people to travel together with them toward Jerusalem.
On the way, Luke reports Jesus’ encounter with three people presented with concrete invitations to follow him as his disciples. These three encounters point to three requirements necessary for discipleship and the Christian life. These three encounters reveal to us what it is like to be disciples of Jesus.
Upon Jesus’ invitation, the first person said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” I don’t know whether the person knew where this road led or not, but I can’t help wondering that if they knew the significance of Jerusalem as its destination, they sensed the risk and declined to join the journey. My guess would be not. Jesus is reported to have said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus was referring to the insecurity which is a cost of discipleship, about the radical rootlessness necessary to becoming a disciple.
When I decided to become a Christian, my decision was very innocent and simple – to believe in something that was good: furthermore, at that time in my life, Christianity promised security in this earthily life and even after death. When I was in my teens our family was confronted by many disasters, so we wanted God’s protection; we wanted God’s blessing to keep us from harm. But today’s scripture presents quite a different picture of discipleship from that of my initial belief. I wonder how I would have acted if I had heard today’s scripture before some of the others.
How do we interpret this person’s encounter with Jesus and Jesus’ response? Do we find the cost of discipleship too high? We know that Jesus’ disciples left their homes to travel with him. But, of course, this does not mean we must have no roof over our heads. To be disciples does not mean we have to be homeless people. Rather, by this invitation, I understand that to be a disciple is utterly important and that we can put no conditions on our discipleship. Being a disciple is worthwhile even though it does not bring security; it might mean insecurity. Jesus emphasized the unconditional criterion of discipleship because this journey leads to life, not death.
In the second incident, Jesus invited a would-be disciple who answered, “First let me go and bury my father.” He asked Jesus for permission to arrange for his father’s burial. To this request, Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
In today’s society attending the burial of one’s parents is a sacred obligation, and this was even more the case among first-century Jews. The holy law called for one to “honour thy mother and father” and the death of a parent was certainly a time when this commandment was to be solemnly observed. However, a contemporary interpretation of the teaching of Jesus presents a different perspective. The teaching recorded in this story would have been, at that time, scandalous, negligent and unthinkable.
How do we understand Jesus’ response to the second potential disciple? The implication of the second person’s request was that he would follow Jesus later. We don’t know if the delay would have been a week or twenty years or permanent. The teaching of Jesus was that discipleship cannot be delayed for any consideration because it is an urgent task. The mission of Jesus is about life and, about that, there can be no delay.
In the third encounter, another would-be disciple asks Jesus to let him go and kiss his parents to say goodbye. Now who could be against that? After all, doesn’t every mother teach her child to tell her where he or she is going, to call her when you get there, and to say what time you are coming home? I think this is a reasonable request, don’t you? Yet Jesus is portrayed as being no easier on this person than on the other two. “No,” says Jesus. “There is no looking back. Either you are with me or not. Once you agree to come, the course is set and we move on.” Jesus says, “Follow me.”
As you may know, I grew up in a rural area and my family had a farm. When I was young I learned to plough the fields. The plough was pulled by an ox. During the ploughing, I was so nervous about whether I was working well or not that I would look back at the furrows to check how I was doing. Whenever I looked back, the furrow became crooked. So, I asked my father how to plough in a straight line. He said to look at the end of the field, set my eyes on the destination and plough ahead. When I did this, I was able to make the furrow straight.
Discipleship for me is like ploughing the land. Looking to the end of the field means accepting the invitation to the journey and looking to the vision of the kin-dom of God. Just as the farmer points the plough in the direction of the goal at the end of the field, we practise following the direction of the vision. Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Looking back means doubting the vision and holding on to our old ways or achievements.
We are invited to walk the road with Jesus and other disciples. This journey is very different from going on a camping trip or a summer cruise. The invitation to this journey means becoming a new person and building the kin-dom of God together. This is about taking God’s invitation seriously and paying attention to God’s vision for us.
Now we are facing a historic inflation rate at 7.7 %; it is at the highest point in 40 years. Bank of Canada Senior DeputyGovernor Carolyn Rogers says, “We know inflation is keeping Canadians up at night. It’s keeping us up at night, and we will not rest easy until we get it back down to target.” In this situation, the most vulnerable people – low-income individuals and families, students and seniors – are the most affected by inflation. We don’t know when we will get it back down to a manageable level. We worry. We pray for the end of the war and a sound world economy. Most of all, we pray for the protection of the most vulnerable people in caring for each other in such times as this. The kin-dom of God is about life for those combating imperialism, global warming and poverty. It is an urgent task and we are invited to take God’s vision on our faith journey. We pledge to continue to seek to be faithful to God’s dream of kin-dom and to work to realize God’s kin-dom on earth. To us today, Jesus says, “Follow me. Let us journey together.” And we all say together, “Amen.” Thanks be to God who calls us to journey together toward abundant life for all people. All my relations!