Phew. Jesus is sounding pretty harsh here. “If you follow me, you won’t have anywhere to lay your head. You won’t be able to say goodbye to your family. You won’t get to bury your dad.” Harsh! How on earth does this fit with the same guy who told us that the greatest commandment is to love one another? He is not sounding very loving today.
Well, how did we get here? Last week, Jesus was sending demons out of some poor guyinto some poor pigs. But a lot happens in scripture from that point to today’s reading. In Luke 9, verses 18 - 27, Jesus asks, "Who do you say I am?" And then he teaches, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." He’s describing a rough road and that fits in well with today’s gospel.
There is another big event after this: in Luke 9: verses 28-36 we have the transfiguration of Jesus, and the voice from Heaven saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him." Having had God affirm his identity, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, knowing that death awaits.
So now we can understand some of the changes Jesus has gone through to get to the point where he has ‘set his face toward Jerusalem.’ Boy, when I read that I get such a clear picture of a ’Mt. Rushmore Jesus’, sternly looking ahead, not turning left or right. He has set his face.
It is no wonder that he really doesn’t care that the Samaritans aren’t being welcoming. He doesn’t have time for them either. James and John are feeling powerful and want to send a bolt of lightning down from the sky to incinerate the Samaritans but Jesus shrugs them off and continues on his path.
Early on, Jesus asked people to follow him, invites others to become fishers of men. By now, he is well known enough that people are approaching him, asking if they can follow him. To the first person, he answers: “Oh, you don’t have any idea what you’re asking. You will have nowhere to lay your head. This is not fun and games.”
Jesus invites another to follow him. This person says yes but asks for a few days so that he can bury his dad. Now I’m very glad that this reading isn’t on Father’s Day because Jesus curtly replies: “Let the dead bury their dead. Your business is life, not death. Life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
The next poor person says: “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first let me get a few things straightened out at home.
Can’t you picture the disciples hearing this? By now they must be pretty nervous like a bunch of kids whose dad is in a bad mood. “Oh, oh,” they think, “this poor guy is really going to get it!”
And he does: Jesus says, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off until tomorrow. Seize the day.”
There is a quote from a Talking Heads song called Life During Wartime that comes to mind: “This ain’t no disco, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no fooling around. No time for dancing, or lovey dovey, I ain’t got time for that now.” Sounds just like Jesus today!
What is the point of all this? What is Jesus telling us here? I want to go back to that Mt. Rushmore Jesus with his face set toward Jerusalem. Think of how he is feeling. Looking neither right nor left, heading straight toward certain death. He probably isn’t in the best mood but he is focused, laser beam focused on his task. He is trying to tell these potential followers that they’re going to have to whittle all extraneous details, like family or dead fathers, out of their lives in order to truly focus on the task at hand.
Can you blame him? Jesus knows us. He knows how easily we are distracted. I used to be able to sit down and read for hours and hours. Now I constantly wonder if I need to check Facebook or my email. I wonder if the peas are growing as fast as they were yesterday. I’d better go check. I think I’d better take Lucy outside to look around. I have so little focus nowadays! I have to practically tie myself to the chair to write a sermon.
How well do you focus? Today Jesus is telling us to get rid of everything that is keeping us from focusing on God. He wants us to put forth great effort for the kingdom of God. Our society expects great rewards for small effort. If you just show up at church with some regularity, you’ve got it made. Some people believe that you’ve just got to make one simple belief statement: “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” and you are good to go, forever.
Remember the great Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps? In training for the London Olympics, he swam six hours a day, six days a week. He swam over eight miles every day. His tremendous effort paid off. He is the most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of twenty two medals.
How much effort are you willing to make for God? How well do you focus on God? None of us is perfect on this front but these harsh lessons help us remember that Jesus knows this isn’t easy for us. Following God isn’t easy but there is a big pay off when we do.
My sister, who isn’t religious, recently had a health scare and at the end of the day, she repeated that old saying; “There are no atheists in foxholes.” When we go through troubling times, God is with us. Focusing on God can feel like holding onto a lifeline, the only rope we have to keep us afloat. An old proverb says, "When you get to your wit's end, remember that God lives there." Amen.