Summary: Those who wanted to follow Christ were told to follow him and not even burry their dead. This sermon explores how Jesus called to deeper discipleship.
Grumpy Jesus: Feelings and Focus
Have you ever been grumpy? I don't mean mere frustration; I mean, have you ever been in a place where no one could do anything right? Maybe you haven’t, but I bet you can notice it in other people.
That sounds a lot like Jesus in Today's Gospel reading. The writer paints a picture where Jesus woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That scares some people, but if he can be grumpy, I guess it gives the rest of us hope. However, it's hard to enjoy the company of grumpy people. It's even harder to work for them and follow them in ministry.
Yet in today's Gospel, that is what disciples are called to do. Jesus called them to follow when it was difficult.
It’s a story of would be?? disciples who expressed their desire to follow Jesus. However, his response comes across as rude at best and cruel at worst.
The first man said, “I’ll follow you wherever you go.” This seems like serious dedication because Jesus traveled to gentile countries, across the sea, and even into Samaria.
But Jesus made it difficult; "You say that, but I have no place to sleep." It makes me wonder if he's saying, "If you wanted to follow me, you’d make sure I had somewhere to sleep!"
That seems harsh, but it’s nothing compared to the next two interactions.
Another man expressed his desire to follow Jesus. All he asked was to say goodbye to his family (wife, parents, and children…). Jesus said, "No! You can't put your hand to the plow and look back at your family."
It even gets better: A third man wanted to follow Jesus, but his father died. The Jewish Law said the burial of one’s parents was necessary. Culture expected men to bury their parents because the burial of a father was part of the commandment, "honor your father and mother."
It makes me wonder, does Jesus want it to be difficult to follow him? Is he trying to give discipleship a sense of the impossibility? Or is he so grumpy he has no time for these trivial wannabes?
I can’t say, but what I know is that following Jesus isn’t easy. I think a lot of our friends and family stop because they feel like, “I can’t do this, I fail too much, I’m not as kind as I should be, I don’t give enough back to the community or the church, or I’m not a very good disciple.”
If we only rely on this passage to form our whole view of Christ, instead of balance it, we will miss who he wants to be for us. He’s not an angry father who woke up on the wrong side of the bed ready to chastise us for serving his coffee too hot. (Although, it would help if Starbucks would learn that coffee shouldn’t be as hot as a comment entering Earth’s atmosphere…).
However, this passage begs the question, which is the crux of today’s sermon: How can we follow Jesus when he makes it seems hard?
The Gospel reading is strong language that illustrates two things: The importance of following Jesus in heart and following him with focus.
Following Jesus in Heart.
It’s hard to follow because we often think God desires behavior above a disposition of the heart.
This passage isn’t a literal prescription for discipleship. It’s a sermon that says, “Follow me with your whole, undistracted, heart.”
“The whole heart.” That’s not a comfortable and cozy life. I wish discipleship was feather pillows, Egyptian cotton sheets, Italian silk, and a Swedish massage. But it’s not. Sometimes it’s leaving our proverbial luxuries (our familiar… our “family” of fears and anxieties), to follow Jesus.
Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me.” Sometimes we need to lay down the cluster of distractions that vie for our attention and take up the difficulty of discipleship.
Following is not an issue of behaviors, it’s an issue of the heart. If the heart is in the right place, behavior will follow.
Then we follow Jesus with focus.
Jesus was a man of metaphor, and this passage is another example. He says, “No one plows a field while looking backward.” Sometimes we need to narrow our focus and prepare the field by any means necessary.
I heard a story of a man who went to jail for stealing a cow because his family lived in poverty. His wife wrote him in the county jail, and she told him how mad she was because he got caught. But she didn't stop there; she let him know how worthless he was because it was time to plant potatoes and she couldn't plow the field by herself.
He wrote back and told her, “Don’t plow the field because that's where I hid the money from cow stealing.” A few days later he opened another letter from his wife. She told him that the sheriff and his deputies didn’t find any money when they dug up the field.