Summary: It hurts when we lose someone we love, and it hurts because we love them. Love and pain are never far from each other. You can’t have one without the other.
Q: Why did the Palestinian cross the road?
A: We don’t know either, but if he wont’ tell us what he was doing, crossing a road without a permit, we will detain him until we find out!
I was looking for a joke with a jarring ending to introduce what I consider to be a particularly jarring Gospel passage -.one that comes right out of left field as it were (as the words of Jesus so often do) and takes us by surprise.
This jarring passage comes from Luke chapter 9, where Jesus and the Apostolic band seem to be having a bit of a recruitment drive - inviting more people to join their merry band in mission and ministry.
One hopeful applicant comes to Jesus and says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus says to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus then takes the initiative and says to another hopeful looking follower, “Follow me.” But he says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” - an eminently reasonableable request, but one that gets an entirely unsympathetic response from Jesus, “Let the dead bury their own dead. As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
A third applicant says, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” But Jesus says to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Three people who desired to follow Jesus, three interviews with the boss, three applicants turned away (or so it seems) and most likely also deeply offended.
The contrast with our own recruitment drives couldn’t be more stark, could it? Not that we have many people approaching us and asking whether they might join the church, but when they do, our normal response is not, “what have you got to offer?”
On the contrary, we’re generally ready to try everything short of offering financial incentives to entice potential new members to join us, and if we had more money, we might try that too (a brand new ipod with every new membership [so that new parishioners can download the sermon podcasts and hear them again later, of course]).
No we’re not in a position to incentivise new memberships like that yet, are we, but I must admit that I have stooped to employ that other time-tested technique, of letting slip in a conversation that, ‘you know there are a lot of attractive young women at our church!’ (well, there’s no point in hiding your light under a bushel now, is there?)
Having said that, I suspect Jesus would not have approved of that approach, and it certainly is not included in the interview technique we witness in Luke 9, where Jesus seems to be doing everything He can to turn people off the idea of joining Him, and this at a time when He could have surely done with a few more staff, for at this stage of His ministry, things were going very well indeed!
If you remember our reading from last week, Jesus healed a man with many demons but there’s been quite a few things that have happened since then.
In a short period, Jesus has healed a haemorrhaging woman, He has raised a young child from the dead, He has miraculously fed more than 5000 people, and he has been transfigured on the mountain top, receiving a bizarre affirmation from God Himself, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!”
In human terms, we might say that this is Jesus at the height of Jesus’ career. This is Muhammad Ali just after he’d beaten George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. This is the Beatles when they had multiple hits concurrently in the top 10. This is American President George W. Bush winning his second electoral term (actually, let’s not draw any parallels between our Lord Jesus and George Bush).
Jesus is riding a wave of popularity. Miracles are pouring out of Him, life-changing words are falling from his lips, God is with Him, and the people love him! And yes it’s time to pull a few more willing souls on to the team to expand the work of transformation that Jesus and His disciples are undertaking, which is why it comes as such a shock when Jesus says to this hopeful applicant, “What do you want to follow me for? I’m homeless!”
We take it for granted that Jesus was homeless, but I’m sure that this didn’t have to be the case. Jesus was at the peak of His career. Did He somehow not see the opportunities for cashing in on his fame? After all, there have been any number of other preachers, before and since, who have picked up a packet hawking religion without half the number of miracles to their credit as He had! With more savvy management, they might have all been staying in good hotels as they did the Galilean circuit!