Sunday, 26 June 2016

Follower or Settler

Luke 9:51-62

As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.
As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

The ‘would be follower’ asks for only a moment to settle their affairs and so is refused. The people who turn Jesus away are protected from punishment. Like the disciples we can only wonder – why?

James and John are indignant; furious enough to call fire and brimstone down on the township. Young Turks, firebrands no doubt; their nickname ‘Sons of Thunder’ – both as bad as each other. Even though as faithful Jews they would have never had a good word for the Samaritans at any other time – the fact that the Samaritans have the nerve to say no to them is just too much. And knowing that the power is there to wield they expect righteous punishment to follow.

And Jesus says ‘no’ – well, says more than no, in fact, rebukes them – tells them they are wrong.

Why are they wrong? – Because they are thinking about retribution and revenge – they are thinking that the power is there to punish and to defend ‘them’. And it is not.

There is no earthly reason for the Samaritans to allow them safe passage; they have no idea who Jesus is and he has not the time, this time, to talk to a woman at a well, to find a place to eat. So, instead, the Samaritans follow a cultural blueprint; acting within the confines of an age-long feud with the Jews. They don’t need any further punishment – the very fact of the act; the very lack of hospitality condemns them – as it would the Jews in their retaliation.

Jesus’ ‘No’, saves the Jews this time; even if it is just James and John, for once the to and fro of this bitter feud is halted in its path. For once, but maybe a lesson learned; every slight does not deserve a response, every bad word should not lead to an argument; just because it always was doesn’t mean it always is; every mis-step does not have to lead mindlessly down the wrong path…

…and you can take that from the one who leads the way.

And the non-sense continues…

These are people who see the way; who recognise something in Jesus that makes them want to follow – except….

….there is something else…something that draws them back…that stops them from making that final commitment. And what Jesus seems to be saying is that it is harder for these people. To get 50/70/90% of the way and then to turn away for even a moment; amazing that Jesus finds this unacceptable. What a human emotion, you would think, that you should be all his and no-one else’s.

You should be all his and no-one else’s

That Jesus uses the image of the plough gives us a cultural clue from the time. The ploughing of a straight furrow is an skill and an art. To follow the lay of the land and the line set before is one of those actions that look easy – until you try. And when you try – the most important piece of advice is to keep your eyes on where you are going. In looking ahead you see the way, your body moves in balance, the blade of the plough follows the lead.

But how tempting to see how you are doing, to glance off at distractions, to look back over your shoulder at where you have been… and then the line falters, the blade bites into the previous furrow, winds off at an angle or turns a stone you didn’t see and is buckled.

To walk with Jesus means you have to keep your eyes on the Kingdom; to not be of this world; to be ready for the journey whenever you are asked to follow. It’s not easy – probably most of us don’t manage it, certainly not in one go.

We have built ourselves refuges and called them Church; we have separated ourselves from the ‘others’ and called ourselves ‘better’; we have seen the Commandments become laws and rulings and feel ourselves justified. We have put down roots; become part of society. We have 'settled'. Christianity is accepted and acceptable in many parts of the world but was it meant to be? Jesus tells us we will be criticised and condemned; that our brothers and sisters will turn against us; that we will have nowhere to lay our head. But that’s not the pattern of Christianity many of us live.

When I was younger – the one aspect of God that I didn’t get, was Jesus, he was portrayed as someone altogether too nice, too kind, too meek and mild. There was nothing really God-ish about him. I didn’t want an angry, judgemental warrior God but nevertheless, Jesus upsetting the moneylenders was one of my favourite Gospel events. And I thought, why couldn’t he always be like that? 

In truth he is- except it is me he challenges - he upsets the applecarts of my worldly life; challenges my sense of what is right; defies what has become my ‘tradition’ and that is something that I don’t always want to face or have questioned. I may be a Christian but the question is – am I a Follower?

Jesus never settles– he moves on; he moves on; his eyes always on a distant Kingdom. Jesus lives in the Here Now; where there is no security but God and only to know that is to live without fear. It is not comfortable or secure – we are not promised either. Living without fear means having courage in the known and the unknown. We are supposed to be followers not settlers – the Way is an unending road this side of Heaven. Through the refuge that is Church we can take comfort and be fed by our sacraments; be held by the family of God; be assured by knowledge that God loves us in our mistakes as much as our successes. But the work is on the road; with eyes that are fixed along the line of the plough and know that there is no looking back.


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