In A Call to Spiritual Reformation Dr. Don Carson comments: ‘When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs – and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfilment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfils our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us’ (pp.15f).
Three brief scenes in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth alert us to some surprising aspects of God’s nature and his expectations of all who call themselves his people.
In Luke’s record a significant turning point occurs in Jesus’ ministry: when the days drew near for him (Jesus) to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). We feel the graphic power of Luke’s words. Jesus was not to be dissuaded from the task ahead as he transitioned in his work from the region of Galilee to Jerusalem. His determination to see his mission through was evident in the flint-like set of his face. This provides the context for what follows.
Scene 1. As they were going along the road, someone said to him (Jesus), ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And 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’ (9:57-58).
The man’s words looked promising: ‘I will follow you wherever you go’. What more would a leader want? But Jesus was aware that the man was not truly committed: ‘Have you really thought about this? Do you understand what’s involved?’ Jesus was aware the man would have expected security and even privilege because he was offering to join the company of a celebrity. But Jesus indicates that the road ahead for his people will not be easy: ‘Come with me and you will have no guarantee of home comforts and security’, he is saying.
One of the misconceptions Jesus needed to correct was the Jewish view of the Messiah. Even his closest followers considered Messiah to be primarily a political figure who would bring the nations under his rule. They had rightly recognized Jesus as God’s Messiah, but it may be that they had taken this to another level: they would be nobles in Jesus’ court.
Jesus uses a powerful metaphor to shatter the man’s dreams, as well as instruct his disciples: ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. Jesus was born in a manger and died on a cross and in between had no fixed home, let alone a palace, where he could lay his head. So he challenges us, ‘How important are comfort and security, and even celebrity to you?’
Scene 2. A second man’s request to Jesus seems reasonable: ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father’ (9:59). Middle Eastern society required a son to remain at home to care for aging parents. Clearly this man’s parents were still alive for if his father had died, to be true to his word, he would have immediately returned home to attend to the burial.
More likely the man’s parents had some years to live, but he was using their ultimate demise as an excuse. And so Jesus challenged him, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ implying that the spiritually dead can attend to the family or cultural expectations. ‘But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’, he said (9:60).
Jesus’ words may seem heartless, but he saw through the man’s request. Children do have responsibilities to parents. The Scriptures command us to honour them and care for them, but we should not allow such care to distract us from the walk with Christ.
Jesus is a demanding leader to follow, as we see even more in a third scene.
Scene 3. Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me say farewell to those at my home’ (9:61). Once again, the request seems reasonable: ‘I need to go and say goodbye to the folks before I come and follow you’. However, Jesus knew how a lengthy Middle Eastern family farewell could be used to overturn the man’s resolve to leave home and follow an unlettered rabbi like Jesus. ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’, Jesus responded (9:62)
Many today might be impressed with Jesus and greatly attracted to him. They may even want to follow him but are not always willing to do so – just yet. Augustine, the 5th century bishop of Hippo said, O Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.
Jesus wants our total commitment. He calls us to be willing to leave the security of a home, of family and friends, and of status. We have to make a choice.
Jesus sometimes creates tensions in families where adult family members have no regard for him. It may not be a parent, but a husband or boyfriend, a wife or girlfriend, who prevents us from hearing and obeying Jesus’ call to follow him. Jesus calls on us to join him on his rescue mission of a lost humanity.
Through the centuries God’s people have often been seduced by the attractions of privilege and prestige. Churches and denominations are often cluttered with celebrated office bearers and wealth. We need leadership and order, but celebrity and power can become more important than serving Jesus Christ.
If we adopt the principles that lie behind Jesus’ words, our relationships with one another as God’s people and in the wider community will be turned upside down. Are we known for our willingness to reach out to newcomers at church, for our care for the sick and suffering, the lonely and the bereaved? And, in our world where everyone is encouraged to bring their ‘full self’ to work, are we willing to bring our ‘Christ-centered self’?
As Jesus says elsewhere, ‘What does it profit a man or a woman to gain the whole world yet lose their own soul?’
A prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your people in the truth of your Word; so that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason
You may like to listen to For the Cause from Keith and Kristyn Getty.