1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer.” Amen
“Honey, don’t read the comments!”
We’ve all felt it. That fiery anger in the pit of our stomachs when someone else dares to reject our beliefs, whatever they may be. We know we are right! How dare they not see that? We immediately feel that impulse to prove we are right, to justify what we know, to defend our faith or our politics or the way we see the world. But we don’t often stop there, do we? I know I don’t. Instead, we all too often give in to that impulse that follows on the heels of anger. We want to attack. We want to shut that person down, prove that we are right and they are wrong, they are misguided, they are possibly even unchristian.
Now, we here may not have the power to call down holy fire and smite our enemies, but our words and our policies do have the power to deal equally extreme damage. Look no further than the comments on the latest local news story, on our twitter threads, and Facebook feeds and you’ll see that we probably aren’t that much different from James and John. But maybe you don’t see these internet conversations often or at all. Perhaps that’s my Millennial-ism showing. So if you’re not an internet junkie, listen to a heated argument between young siblings, and you’ll hear pretty much the same thing. In this story, I see us as standing right next to James and John, shaking our heads in agreement with them.
So Jesus’s rebuke to James and John is a rebuke to us too. Jesus simply moves on with the work of the gospel. They go to another village. He won’t let James or John stop to argue. Instead he says to move on. Leave it be. There’s work to do.
Next, Jesus gives further demands to his followers. Jesus invites them to examine their own life commitments instead of giving in to the desire to point fingers or harass or harangue those who do not see life as they do. They must pivot and set their faces toward Jerusalem, toward the work of Christ. He calls those who follow him to restructure their lives, radically freeing themselves to follow him toward the in breaking of the kingdom of God.
At this point, Jesus’ response to three followers may seem rude. He allows no time for mourning, for tying up loose ends, for fulfilling our priorities first, or for saying goodbye. Instead, he has his face set to go to Jerusalem. He knows what that stop on his journey will bring and that it is coming oh so quickly. So I imagine Jesus answering with loving sadness, trying to impress on those around him the urgency of his journey. It may be alienating, but he does not want them to miss what will happen there. If they look back now, if he and his followers turn back now, it will ruin their work. Following Christ requires a radical turn from our own priorities and impulses and a radical devotion as we approach Jerusalem.
Such a single-minded approach is difficult. When Christ calls us to love our neighbors, to pick up and turn around, we may not always have time to take care of what we prioritize first. But Jesus will say harder things to his disciples and to us in the weeks to come. He will tell us what to do with our money, who to invite to our tables and into our homes, how to surrender our privilege. The words and teachings of Jesus are not going to be always pleasant. Pay attention to Christ’s teachings and actions in the following weeks of our lectionary, and you just might learn about love from a foreigner, from a Samaritan, who rejects your religious ideas or has a different political affiliation.
When Jesus talks about things that have the capacity to offend us or call us out, do we ignore them? Do we write those teachings off as for a different people, a different time? Or do we trust in God’s capacity to transform us? Do we drop our attachments here and follow Jesus where there might be no place for him and for us to lay our heads? When the impulse to attack and the desire to call down holy retribution and fire on “the other” rises in us, do we examine ourselves instead and set our faces toward a new Jerusalem with Jesus?
It’s time for us to leave the past and its arguments and prejudices, to drop our own priorities, and put the work of Christ first. The kingdom of God awaits us. All we have to do is ask ourselves, “to what am I so attached to today that keeps me from following Jesus fully and freely?”
Let us pray.
Ever living God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ, inspire our witness to him. Give us the strength to examine our own baser instincts and turn our faces toward your kingdom. Send us now in peace to do the work you have given us to do and to love those whom you have given us to love that we may be a witness to your kingdom, your power, and your glory, now and forever.