Friday, June 28, 2013

The Sunday Word II

This Sunday offers a question, one that is at the heart of the Gospel passage:

Are you Jesus’ type?

As Jesus completes his ministry in the Galilee region, and begins his long journey toward Jerusalem, he encounters a variety of men and women, people of all types, and he begins a process of elimination that is bound to strike us as rather severe.

First, he enters a Samaritan village, and discovers that there is absolutely no way that he is going to be able to develop a relationship with anyone in the town.

The Samaritans refuse to receive him because he is heading toward Jerusalem — and this is the wrong city to be going to or coming from if you want to feel the love from Samaritans.

It would be like going to a baseball game at Citi Field, wearing a New York Yankees cap and a “Yankees Rule” T-shirt.

Bottom line: These folks are absolutely incompatible.

Then, Jesus encounters a man along the road, an Idealist, perhaps a Romantic, who says to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."

But Jesus senses that he might have the wrong idea about the life of discipleship, and so he administers this little test of expectations: "Foxes have holes,” says Jesus, “and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

We don’t know exactly what this first would-be disciple is expecting, but he might be thinking that Jesus the Messiah is going to be his meal ticket. To such dreams of comfort and affluence, Jesus gives a rude wake-up call:  "You want a life of luxury?" he seems to be asking. "You’re looking in the wrong place."

Shortly afterwards;, Jesus sees another potential disciple, a Pragmatist, responsible, reasonable and rational and so he extends the invitation, "Follow me."

But the fellow says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father."

Is this an unreasonable demand? It doesn’t seem to be, at first. In fact, the duty to bury the dead was taken very seriously by devout Jews, and it was considered good form to care for one’s deceased relatives.

The guy is trying to be a solid citizen and a decent catch, but Jesus isn’t impressed.

"Lord, first let me go and bury my father" turns out to be a red flag on the discipleship survey, an answer that threatens to get the man tossed from the discipleship pool. "Let the dead bury their own dead,” insists Jesus; "but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

Jesus sounds harsh here, and more than a little insensitive. But what he’s trying to say is this: If you want to be my type, you have to focus on life, not death. Put your energy into proclaiming the kingdom of God, not into digging holes for dead bodies.

Finally, another applicant, a Procrastinator, approaches Jesus and says, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."

Jesus hits the reject button with the words, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Jesus will not allow anyone to turn from the path that he is calling them to follow. He expects radical commitment, total intensity, complete focus.

As it turns out, none of these people is Jesus’ type. Not the Idealist, the Pragmatist or the Procrastinator.

So, where does this leave us?

Sunday’s Gospel teaches that happiness will come if we are compatible with Jesus in several important ways. First, we need to share his determination to travel to Jerusalem, and this means seeing our final goal as resurrection life with God. It is only by traveling with him to Jerusalem, and moving with him through sacrifice to new life, that we will discover our deepest fulfillment as human beings.

Finally, we are challenged to look ahead, not back. It is so tempting to gaze to the past and wonder why our lives turned out the way they did, so easy to second-guess ourselves and play “what-if” games with the choices we have made.

But Jesus says that no one who "looks back" is fit for the kingdom of God, and he calls us to focus forward on the life that God has in store for us. Any happiness we experience is going to come from looking ahead, with hope. Any fulfillment we feel is going to come from moving forward, with faith. Any love we enjoy is going to come not from new friends or a new community , but instead from building a new future with our existing friends and Brothers.

This personality test forces us to look inward, and discover what kind of persons we want to be. It reminds us that we have the power to make ourselves compatible with Jesus, and through this compatibility we can enjoy the abundant life he offers. If we walk in his way, and focus on his goals, we’ll find ourselves experiencing levels of happiness, fulfillment and love that we never dreamed possible.

We’ll be Jesus’ type.