Thursday, July 4, 2013
Gimme a break, Jesus!
The Gospel for today records the turning point in the whole book of Luke. Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem to meet what awaits Him there. The cross is no mere stop over but the defining event of salvation, the hour for which Jesus has come into the flesh. In the Gospel we heard of a Samaritan village that rejected the Savior for His cross appointed destiny. Jesus’ disciples wanted to punish those who rejected Jesus but our Lord rebuked them for the distraction that He refused to consider on His way to fulfill His holy purpose.
Jesus also deals with a couple of volunteers and one whom Jesus calls to follow Him. They are ready to follow Him, to a point. But first a few loose ends need to be cleared up. One is ready to follow Jesus as long as it is comfortable but he is not ready to forsake home and family. Another is ready to follow Jesus as long as Jesus gives Him time to take care of a few things at home. When all is done and his life is in order, then he will follow Jesus.
It would seem that our Lord was unnecessarily harsh upon these folks. If you are like me, you winced a bit at hearing such blunt words to a couple of fellows who seemed ripe for the Kingdom of God and who seemed to plead only for a small accommodation from Jesus.. Maybe we fear Jesus' words here because we all know how much of our own lives are consumed with earthly concerns and matters. Maybe we should feel uncomfortable.
The Gospel is compelling. It does not compete with earthly cares and needs but reorders our lives before them. Our Lord rejects anything and everything that competes or distracts from the central focus of the cross. He insists that the Gospel is above all cross shaped and that we meet our Lord there by faith. Jesus refuses to share us. It is all Christ or no Christ, all cross or no cross. Certainly this is hard to hear for a people accustomed to compartmentalizing our lives, handling a variety of responsibilities at the same time, and used to prioritizing things. The Gospel and the cross are not a priority; they are the one and only thing. Not just for Jesus but for you and me as well.
The times and seasons of this mortal life must all give way to the heavenly purpose of God reveals in the cross. Earthly regrets give way to God's purpose and the promise of Christ which is both the ground on which we stand now and the path to our eternal future.
Our sinful self is not so sure... We are gravely tempted by the prospect of a less compelling Gospel, a more accommodating Savior, and a God who will share us with other thing. We fear a God who is jealous of our time, attention, and devotion – who refuses to share us with equally weighted earthly cares, concerns, and circumstances. So the cross is as much a scandal to us and to the values we have placed upon our lives and our things, as it was frightening to the Samaritan villagers so long ago.
We would prefer a Savior who did not have to die for sins that are not so bad. We prefer a faith that can take second place when the urgent matters of life press upon us. We prefer a Gospel which understands we have lots of things to deal with. We prefer a Sunday faith, or one for emergencies, but Jesus insists that just as the cross is the focus of His life, so it is the focus of our lives by baptism and faith. Faith defines us and the cross is the center of that faith. He is resolute in this so that we might be resolute in Him.
Such a radical Gospel can easily frighten us. Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere... No one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God. The point here is that the Gospel is compelling, that faith is defining, and the cross is everything.
We may yearn for a more flexible and accommodating religion but that is not the religion of Christ. If faith is less than satisfying, is it because we have embraced it with too much fervor or is it because it has remained on the fringes of our identity and our lives instead of defining them? There is only the Gospel and that Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, who suffers for our sins and dies for our redemption. This is the one and only Gospel that offers forgiveness, life, and salvation.
We look around and wonder why we are not in better shapes as Christians or doing better as a church. We think that they key may be in loosening up the faith a bit and making it easier to believe and easier to follow Jesus. In other words, we think a less compelling Gospel might make it easier to believe but everything about the cross is compelling. We seek a religion to affirm us and what we are doing but the Gospel is about death and resurrection, about the you who is gone and the Christ in you who lives eternally. We want a God who is more accommodating to us and our schedules but the Gospel is about God’s time and embrace that transcends all other time and reality.
In contrast to the easy and broad way, Jesus leads us on the narrow path – the one He has walked for us to the cross so that we might be a cross bearing people. God has called us to live by faith, a cross eyed faith, a faith without fear even in the midst of enemies, persecution, and temptation. This is the radical Gospel of the cross, as St. Paul insists, in which we know Jesus Christ and Him crucified or no God at all. Amen