One of the more delightful programs on the television these days is the BBC show, The Repair Shop. In it, people bring along treasured family items which are repaired and restored by experts in various crafts. The results are amazing and are achieved because the men and women who do the restoration are professionals. They have spent years honing their craft. To do this requires skill, patience, and expertise which come from experience and hard work. If you want to become good at something, it takes time, effort, and persistence. Living the Christian life is no different. It takes commitment, and is the work of a lifetime. Each and every one of us needs to consider the fact that, if our relationship with God is the most important thing in our life, then we need to make it a priority. If our faith matters to us then it must be something we invest in, so that it may develop, deepen, and grow.
The Gospel this morning sees Jesus’ ministry changing. Up to this point in Luke’s Gospel, He has been ministering in and around Galilee, where He grew up. After the Transfiguration, Jesus sets off towards Jerusalem, teaching as He goes. In Jerusalem He will be welcomed as the Messiah on Palm Sunday, and a few days later will be crucified, then be raised from the dead, and continue to spend time with His disciples until He ascends into Heaven.
Luke highlights this with the words:
‘When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up’ (Lk 9:51).
The journey to Jerusalem is an ascent of several thousand feet, Jesus will be lifted up on the Cross, and later will be taken up to Heaven, to be with God the Father. The ambiguity is deliberate, Luke is setting the scene for the rest of his Gospel narrative. This section begins with Our Lord sending people on ahead to make preparations for Him and His disciples. The Samaritan village, however, does not receive them. There were religious differences between the Jews and Samaritans, with the Samaritans worshipping on Mount Gerizim, rather than Mount Zion, in Jerusalem. Samaritan self-identity was all about not going to Jerusalem. These differences meant that Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix with one another. James and John, the sons of Zebedee are upset at being shunned and ask:
“Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk 9:54)
Jesus is not pleased at this rather immature response and tells James and John off. His mission is to save people, not to destroy them. God is a God of love, our Creator and Sustainer. Our Lord does not force people to believe in Him. The disciples still have much to learn.
As they continue their journey, someone says to Jesus:
“I will follow you wherever you go.” (Lk 9:57)
This is admirable: it shows their commitment to Jesus and the Kingdom. It does, however, come at a cost, as Jesus makes clear in His reply:
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Lk 9:58)
If we are willing to follow Jesus, we have to understand that Heaven is our true home, and that our time on earth is short. Jesus’ true home is with the Father, and so is ours. Luke then describes another interaction on the journey:
‘To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”’ (Lk 9: 59-60)
The disciple’s request seems, at face value, to be a reasonable one. Burying one’s parents was an obligation of the Jewish religion and family piety, something of the utmost importance. But the responsibility toward God and the furtherance of His Kingdom is even more important. The unnamed disciple is not able to understand this. As we humans have the tendency to do, they want to add conditions. However, following Jesus needs to be unconditional. To reinforce the point Luke gives another example:
‘Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”’ (Lk 9:61-2)
Again, at first glance the request seems a fair one. It is modelled on Elisha’s request to Elijah in this morning’s Old Testament reading. Jesus is however, stricter than Elijah. The point Our Lord is making is that nothing should be more important than God, not even our family. This teaching is difficult and uncompromising, and points to the importance that Jesus should have in the lives of those who follow Him. Christ’s teaching also refers to commitment. When engaged in an activity such as ploughing which employs powerful beasts (or machinery today) you need to focus on what you are doing. It requires your full attention to get it right. In the same way we need to be fully attentive to our Christian life.
This idea is reinforced by the passage from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Christ gives us freedom from slavery, freedom to serve:
‘But through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Gal 5:13-14)
Christians serve each other because we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. To love is to will the good of another, to want to see them flourish. Love is made real in service, something I am reminded of every day when I pray for you and serve you through my ministry. Jesus gives us the example we should follow, just as He gives the Church the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We receive the same Spirit in our Baptism and in the Eucharist, where we are nourished by God, with God, so that we may be strengthened to live the life of the Spirit, here and now.
Let us today, and every day, live lives of commitment and service, which build up the common good, and make the Kingdom of God a reality. And let us give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.