When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.
Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Another follower said, “Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father’s funeral to take care of.”
Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” (The Message)
Count the cost. Realize what it will take. Have some understanding of the time, energy, and resources needed. Discern the kind of commitment which is before you. It’s a matter of life and death, of spiritual survival.
If you had to carry everything you needed in a backpack, what would you put into it?
First off, for me and most people, that means identifying the barest essentials. It would likely take a long time to think simplistically about what is most important for survival. A lot of things would get left behind. And many items would gain greater attention and appreciation.
We would need some small basic tools including: a multi-tool with a knife and pliers; a source of illumination, like a flashlight and extra batteries; duct tape; rope; fishing line; a way of starting fire; a pot, pan, and mug; first-aid kit; emergency poncho; and just a few extra items of clothing.
If we were to live out of a backpack, it would very much change our lifestyle. And that is the point Jesus was trying to get across to some individuals who seemed like they couldn’t do that.
Trying to fit an existing life into a brand new life won’t work. It will not fit into the backpack of Christian discipleship.
Instead, we must adjust to a new reality, a completely different way of being.
When my wife and I were raising our girls, those precocious little females brought lots of life to the dinner table each night. There was never a dull moment with them. Today, however, they are all grown with their own families – which means we are empty-nesters.
It would be weird if my wife and I continued to live as if they were home – making large meals, dirtying lots of dishes, and engaging in mock conversations. Rather, although it took a while to get used to, we eventually came to grips with the new reality that our precious girls were grown and no longer living under our roof. And that meant a complete change of lifestyle for us.
A full-orbed Christian spirituality includes both the comfort of Christ to others, and the rugged responsibility to obey the words and ways of Jesus. In other words, the love of Jesus Christ is both tender and tough, at the same time, all the time.
Hurting and healing are both necessary for the follower of Jesus. Hard teachings and uncompromising commands for discipleship from Christ become the pathways of healing.
So, then, to go all out for Christ will involve much difficulty.
In today’s New Testament lesson, Jesus rather rudely rejected two would-be followers. When it comes to God’s upside-down kingdom, the eager beavers are turned away, and the half-hearted are called.
Jesus wants us, all of us, and not just our dedication. That is the demand of Christian discipleship. Anyone who believes they can remain the same person and simply fit a bit of Jesus into their lives, does not understand the cost of following Christ. The person who thinks it is Christianity’s lucky day when they decide to follow Jesus has not yet grasped what it means to be a Christian.
Whereas the religious scholar’s head was too big to fit through the narrow hole of Christian discipleship, the man who wanted to bury his father was too fainthearted and timid. He wanted to dip his toe in the water, and really had no intention of taking the all out plunge into the pool.
Nobody needs to do something “first” before following Jesus. Essentially, Jesus was neither invited nor welcome to the funeral. And Christ will have nothing to do with people picking and choosing which areas of their lives he will be invited into. It’s either a wholesale welcome or no welcome, at all.
When Jesus knocks on the door, he wants to be invited into the entire house, not just the foyer.
For Jesus, following him isn’t easy. The world is full of spiritual zombies, the walking dead. This old fallen world needs Christian disciples who will follow Jesus anywhere – into the hard places and rough terrain of engaging the sinful world.
We are meant to wholeheartedly follow Jesus, neither flippantly without counting the cost, nor procrastinating the hard road of Christian discipleship. Christians are to accept and maintain orders of first importance – which means full submission and obedience to Jesus Christ. Anything less is merely a cheap form of following.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Where every realm of nature mine
My gift was still be far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Lord, you are all-knowing and full of wisdom. Your plan is masterful. Help me as your disciple to follow you in every thought, word, and deed. Give me a heart of obedience and trust so that I do not get wrapped up in my doubt or what I think is the right choice.
Help me to recognize that your good will does not always look the way I think it should, but that doesn’t make it any less good. I desire to be your disciple and follow you all the days of my life. Please give me the strength to do that. Amen.