Sunday, June 30, 2013

Competitors to Christian Commitment

June 30, 2013 –– 13th Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 9:51-62

What is the most important thing in your life?  One way to answer that is to think of what dominates your free time, that on which you spend your money, and perhaps especially what you most enjoy talking about.  In other words, where are your priorities?  Most of us know that our commitment to Jesus and his kingdom should be the most important thing in life.  Most of us have also found out that that kind of commitment is easier to talk about than to actually practice in day to day life.

We need to hear Jesus in the context of the things which touch us so deeply.  One thing to remember is that Jesus is en route to Jerusalem where he knows he will die.  As people face the issue of discipleship and what commitment means, we remember that ultimate commitment is modeled by Jesus. Jesus doesn't call for a commitment in others which he himself has not first embraced.  

Another thing to see in Jesus is his honesty with would-be followers.  He does not down-play the commitment.  He did not make things easy just to win a convert.  A commitment cannot be made if a person doesn't know what the conditions of commitment are.

One other thing about Jesus that we see here builds on his honesty.  Some might even think it is a harshness, but again, remember that Jesus has begun the walk toward his own death and is in no mood for half-heartedness in those who say they will follow.  In v60 he tells the man, Let the dead bury their own dead.... Jesus does not want a partial commitment.

Then, there are these three men who face the call of discipleship. There was nothing really sinful about any of their issues.  They were normal concerns that all of us identify with very easily.  They were "needs" that are common to all human beings, and that is just the point when it comes to Christian discipleship: human "needs" are not automatically justified in the realm of Christian commitment. The starting place in Christian commitment is not our felt needs.

Consider what the competitors to Christian commitment are.  Jesus' reply to the first volunteer disciple is, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  In other words, the very human need for security and the very human desire for comfort must take a back seat to a commitment to Jesus. Does this mean that no Christian should have a fixed home?  It doesn't say that.  Remember, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and this fellow says he will follow Jesus wherever Jesus goes.  For him, discipleship would have meant no home.  Following Jesus would have precluded that.  The particular issue with this man is just an example of the general truth that security and comfort cannot be more important than following Jesus if you have to choose between the two.

It was to the second man that Jesus explicitly said, "Follow me."  The man's answer was an example of misplaced priority.  Following Jesus accepts no higher priority.  If the man's father was dead and waiting for burial, Jesus' reply seems uncaring.  The point, though, is that the call of the kingdom cannot wait for even the most urgent earthly reasons.  The implication of Jesus' words is, "Let the spiritually dead bury the physical dead."  Some things can be done by almost anyone; the work of Christ can only be done by those who are fully committed to him.

Actually, we don't know if the father of this man was even dead.  A typical Eastern response to a commitment that upsets life patterns is to wait until things are more convenient.  What this man did not know is that for important events in life there is frequently a crucial moment.  This was a now or never proposition.  Following Jesus is that way, but the response of many people is "wait" –– wait until I'm older.... wait until I've had my fun.... wait until I'm secure in life.... wait.... But what is worth more than commitment to God's Son?

The third man only wanted to go back to tell his family goodbye.  That's not such an awful request, is it? God put us in families. They are important.  Children are to honor their parents and husbands are to love their wives just like Jesus loves the Church.  I don't think it was a verbal goodbye that Jesus was refusing this man; he was uncovering a divided loyalty, and there's no earthly loyalty that can compete with allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom, not even family.

I am an only child living almost 600 miles from my widowed dad who is now 93.  There are many times I'd rather be closer, but almost 50 years ago I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and I made a commitment to not turn back.  If that means almost 600 miles from the family networking that so many other people take for granted, then my commitment is to be here. Yet even as I make that commitment, there will always be competitors.

What is it that will keep us from divided loyalty, from giving in to the competitors?  It will not be a mere cognitive “accepting” the teachings of Jesus, for Christianity is more than that.  Christian commitment means an identification with Jesus in his life and death and resurrection.  We get a good picture of that kind of person in the Apostle Paul.  He was the opposite of these three men.  He was willing to travel, having no permanent home.  He was not one who waited for things to get more convenient.  He held no other relationship above the one he had with his Lord.

One way that you to reflect more on this text is to read Paul's letter to the Philippians and notice how often he refers to Jesus.  He is a man totally entranced with Jesus Christ.  Note how he gives Jesus the priority: For to me, to live is Christ... (1:21);  I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things (3:8); I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings (3:10); I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (3:14).  Those are the words of a person who is winning the battle with competitors to Christian commitment.

So I end the reflection on these verses with my opening question: What is the most important thing in your life?  These men who encountered Jesus help us see the competitors that we face in our commitment to Jesus.  Who or what are we putting first?

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