Galatians 5. 1, 13 – 25
Luke 9. 51 – 62
The word ‘Gospel’ of course means ‘good news,’ but we’ve just heard one of those Gospel readings that doesn’t really seem to have much good news in it at all.
It’s one of those where Jesus, our kind and loving Saviour, seems in fact unkind and uncaring, if not actually downright mean.
Two would-be followers of Jesus who make really quite reasonable requests are dismissed – one to bury his father, considered a sacred duty; and the other to say goodbye to his family first.
“Let the dead bury their own dead.” “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
It’s even stranger when you consider that these are the only people in the whole of Luke’s Gospel who actually volunteer to follow Jesus! Everyone else is called or even persuaded.
But the explanation of Jesus’ behaviour is, I think, quite simple. He has set his face to go to Jerusalem. The days have drawn near for him to be taken up, and he’s on his way to his death. Very soon he will complete the great work of salvation for which he came down to earth.
If there’s something more important than walking with Jesus to the cross in his final days, I’d like to know what it is.
In truth, it’s one of those readings that we can’t simply take as it is, and map it onto our own lives.
No one’s suggesting that a new Christian should abandon their parents or family or friends; no one’s suggesting that we abandon all our possessions and give away all our money at once.
But what this passage should prompt us to do is reflect on the nature of our own discipleship: and what it is in our own lives that causes us to look back when we put our hand to the plough.
The kind of discipleship to which Jesus called his followers was much more urgent than what we’re called to. And it’s fair to say the cost of that discipleship was much higher.
But our challenge is that without that urgency, that focus that comes from having Christ right there, being called into his great mission: it’s so easy for all the stuff to get in the way.
I’ll pray, but after I’ve done all the tasks I need to do today. I’ll give more of my time and money, but only when I’m sure I’ve got plenty of it to spare. These are things Jesus addresses in the Gospels.
And the result is that our faith can simply become a burden; another thing to add to the list of life stuff, another reason to feel guilty.
I think about when my wife and I started talking about having children, we were quite young (for these days at least). I remember a few times people would kindly say things like ‘Shouldn’t you wait until you’ve got the right job, or a bigger car, or a more suitable house, or paid off that debt,’ or whatever good reason there was to hold off.
But we didn’t hold off because, frankly, there’s never a good time to have a child. They will disrupt your world no matter how well you think you have it ordered. And you soon realise how unimportant all those other things really are, in the face of something so life-changing.
And I think it’s the same sort of thing with the call that Jesus makes on us. Because the key thing is that Jesus isn’t offering us another thing to add to all the other concerns of life; he’s not giving us just more to add to the list, something else to feel guilty about when we neglect it or it doesn’t quite go how it should.
By choosing Jesus, by choosing the life he brings, he gives us freedom from those concerns of life; a new, life-changing way of interpreting them, through the resurrection of Christ. As St Paul said in our first reading, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” He hasn’t gone through all of that just to bring us into a new kind of slavery. We have been called to freedom.
It doesn’t mean that we won’t be worried from time to time. There’s plenty to worry about at the moment, with the cost of living, and relationships between the nations alarming us. And all those countless personal things that cause us anxiety.
But with Christ, these things no longer need to have a hold on us. They don’t need to cause us to stumble; to look back, when we could be moving forward. Because in redeeming us, Christ has redeemed the whole of our lives; he has given us the capacity to choose the right way, the way of the Spirit. Christ is there in all of it, calling us forward with him into life.
So perhaps this week we might pause to think about what things are causing us to look back. What’s getting in the way? What is it that we need to be freed from? We can offer it all to God, and pray that we might know that freedom that Christ died to bring us. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”