Saturday, July 06, 2013

What it Means to Follow Jesus

Luke 9.57-62
This reading is a head-on challenge to those of us who are church members. The New Revised Standard Version gives it this heading, ‘Would be Followers of Jesus’, but that’s not part of the Bible text. An alternative title would be, ‘What it means to follow Jesus’. In principle we all want to follow wherever Jesus wants us to go, but are we always prepared for what that is going to mean in practice?
The first thing we learn is that it means being prepared to let go of our base, our spiritual home. Foxes have a hole where they can shelter from the rain. Birds have nests where they can raise their young. But a bolt hole or a shelter from the storm is a luxury as far as the followers of Jesus are concerned.
The second thing we learn is that it means being prepared to let go of our roots, of tradition, of the place where our family belongs. Followers of Jesus who move from one town to another already know this, of course - although a lot never find a new Christian community to call home and simply give up practising their faith. But it’s equally true for followers who have never moved from the place they call home. We have all got to be prepared to let go of the past, even when it is part of our heritage, in order to follow Jesus into the future.
The third thing we learn is that being a follower of Jesus means we can never look back. A ploughman - or woman - can’t look back or they won’t be able to keep a straight line. They just have to trust that what has already been done is good enough.
If we’re not satisfied with the past, dwelling on it won’t change it. If we love the past, and prefer it to the present, we can’t bring it back. In anything, but especially when we are trying to follow Jesus, we can only look to the future.

Taking Risks for Jesus

 Luke 7.36-8.3
It’s interesting that our Gospel reading includes so many examples of people - both men and women - taking risks and living dangerously in order to express their faith in Jesus. There’s poor Simon the Pharisee, who took a very real risk by inviting Jesus, the unorthodox and rabble-rousing preacher, to his house. He thought that Jesus was a prophet, someone in touch with God, so it was worth living dangerously by associating with him.
Unfortunately, Simon was a person stuck between two worlds. He was impressed by Jesus, but he still couldn’t entirely put behind him the temptation to judge other people which is so characteristic of pharisees when they figure in the Gospels. ‘If this man were really a prophet,’ he thought to himself, ‘He would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’
Of course, this is a heavily ironic moment in the story because Jesus is a prophet, so he not only knew all about the woman’s chequered past but he also knew exactly what Simon was thinking, and Simon’s ambivalence earned him some scathing criticism. He was brave but not brave enough, he was committed but not totally committed. He was prepared to invite Jesus round for dinner but not brave enough to kiss him or anoint him with oil. He wanted to be an associate rather than a follower, someone who encouraged Jesus and his disciples from the sidelines, rather than someone in the thick of the action.
In contrast we have the woman Simon so despised, who gate-crashed the party to bathe Jesus’ feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and then kiss them repeatedly and anoint them with ointment. This was a dangerous thing to do by any standards. Not only had she invaded the privacy of Simon’s home, but also she was breaking any number of social taboos, uncovering her hair, kissing a stranger’s feet, touching him, and so on. She may have had a notorious reputation, but her behaviour on this occasion was so public - and directed towards such an unusual and prominent person - that it was nothing short of scandalous. It could have earned her a whipping if Jesus had not received her so sympathetically. Here is an example of courage and commitment writ large, and - unlike Simon, she clearly impressed Jesus deeply by her faithfulness. Which kind of friend of Jesus are we?
Finally there were the well-to-do women, some of them also very well connected, who had given up everything, at least for the time being, to follow Jesus, and who were resourcing his work out of their own private fortunes. He had done so much for them that in return nothing seemed too much for them to give him. It was courage and risk-taking of a different kind, living dangerously from day to day by spending their money, and leaving their families and friends, to help Jesus in his mission.
When we face trouble and danger, do we face them with Jesus and his Spirit to strengthen us? And as followers of Jesus ourselves, are we ready to take risks for him and live life ‘on the edge’ in order to serve him?