We live in a world of competing demands, and for the most part, we’re pretty good at it. We are, after all, the multi-tasking generation. We can watch Netflix, chat on Facetime and do schoolwork all at the same time. And it’s a good thing that we know how to multi-task, because there are a lot of claims on our lives. School. Our family. Our love-life. Work, friends, finances, health, we want it all, and we’re figuring out how to manage it all. We balance our competing interests, we negotiate, we compromise, we make adjustments. We have time-management techniques and life hacks to help us hold it all together.
But when a push comes to a shove, when the moment of crisis comes, when multi-tasking is no longer an option, which claim on your life will prevail over all the others? Which of your competing priorities will push the others aside and come first in your life?
Today’s gospel reading takes us right into one of those moments of crisis. Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, and the crowd that’s traveling with him is big and getting bigger. It’s a dangerous situation. Think of the protests in Hong Kong right now. Crowds of people out demonstrating in the streets, putting their lives and their families and their homes at risk. The Chinese army ready and waiting on the border. Well, if that sounds dangerous, then for the protest movement that Jesus is leading into Jerusalem, multiply the risk by a factor of ten, or maybe a hundred. The Roman Empire didn’t take kindly to protest movements. The Empire was watching, they had their eyes on the crowd, and this movement, like others that preceded it, would be crushed and its leader executed.
Jesus knows this. He’s already predicted his own death, he knows the cost of his mission to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom in Jerusalem, the capital city. He’s all-in. But when he sees the large crowd following him, he’s got to wonder if they know what they’re doing, what they’re getting themselves into. And so he lays it out for them. If you follow me into Jerusalem, you’re putting your family and your own life at risk. You’ll never see your possessions again. You’re going to suffer. Unless you’re ready to give up all of this, don’t come to Jerusalem with me. Sit down, think about it, figure out what you’re doing. Count the cost, then decide.
Maybe this is stating the obvious, but Jesus is not recruiting followers in this text. He’s actually giving them a way out, he’s encouraging them to open their eyes and think about what they’re doing. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want followers. It’s just that he doesn’t want accidental followers. This is a moment of crisis, a moment of decision, and if you want to be part of it, you have to be all-in.
I think that Jesus’ words to that crowd, in that time and place, make perfect sense. Though they may sound like a challenge, in the circumstances, they are really a gift to the crowd. See the reality, think it through, make your decision.
But what do we do with these words today?
That’s often the problem of reading the bible, isn’t it? What do we do with Jesus’ words, spoken in a different time and place, in a very particular and dangerous situation? If we try to universalize them, to say that the words apply equally in our time and place, then we are the ones left with a challenge. Because by the standards of this text it’s pretty clear that I am not a disciple of Jesus. I haven’t given up my family obligations, nor my possessions. I’m not putting my life at risk in any way. I’m still doing the multi-tasking thing, I’m still balancing priorities and claims on my life. If this text is the criteria for being a disciple, I’m not there, and I don’t think many of you are either. In fact when I do think of recent examples of people who satisfy these criteria, people like Martin Luther King Jr., or Oscar Romero, or Mother Theresa, well that just reinforces the obvious conclusion that I’m not one of them.
Does this mean that I’m not a disciple of Jesus?
Or, maybe I am a disciple, or perhaps more accurately a would-be disciple, whose time has not yet come.
Or maybe my time has come but I don’t see it yet.
Maybe I’ve got some learning to do.
Because while it is clear that this text challenges us to be all-in, there is also an invitation here to do some learning, to start seeing things as they really are, to do some self-examination and to get ready.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?”
What is this tower that we are building, what is the foundation that we are to build our lives upon?
Or to put it another way, in the midst of all the competing claims of our lives, what is the claim that Jesus is placing upon those of us who want to be his disciples, those of us who want to follow Jesus. What is the claim that will in a critical moment come to the fore and sweep all the other claims of our lives aside?
We could, I suppose, articulate that claim in a number of different ways. But when Jesus was asked that question previously, here’s how he replied:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
This is the claim that has to take priority for me if I want to follow Jesus. And we’re not talking about the soft version here. Sometimes we like to soften Jesus’ claims. We like to think that loving our neighbour consists of being nice to people in our social circle, and that loving God means we go to church. But Jesus takes it a lot farther than that. When someone then asks him “who is my neighbour”, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan, of a man who sets his other priorities aside and puts his own life at risk to help an unknown foreigner who is lying in a ditch, and then writes a blank cheque to provide for his care. Or on another occasion, when the rich ruler asks Jesus what he must do, what it means to love God, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Now that’s a moment of decision, a critical moment when we discover which one of the many claims on our life really does matter the most.
So by all means, keep on multi-tasking. Keep on balancing priorities. Keep on doing your time management. But at the same time, get real and get ready. Use this present time which has been given to us to sit down and figure out which of all the various claims on your life is the most important. Do the self-examination. Figure out where your priorities lie. And if your priority is to follow Jesus, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself, start to test out what that really means in your life. The path to discipleship is after all very much a learning experience, and the best way to learn is by doing.
Maybe there’s a road to Jerusalem in your future. Or maybe there isn’t. In the gospels, Jesus says to some people “follow me”, and to others he says “go in peace”. One day you may be called to the costly discipleship described in today’s gospel. Or maybe you won’t. But in either case you better get ready. Because you going to be called to something.
So don’t waste this moment. Let’s make use of this present time, use it to sharpen our vision, to reflect on our priorities, to learn and practice what it means to follow Jesus and to get ready for that day when we too may be called to go all-in.
Homily Yr C P23 September 8 2019, St. Albans
Readings: Jeremiah 18.1-11; Ps 139; Philemon 1-21, Luke 14.25-33
Image by CMy23, Creative Commons