Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday in Pentecost, Proper 24: Misdirected zeal

Opening Sentence
I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord." Psalm 122:1

When Morning Guilds the Skies

Collect of the Day
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 25

Lessons: Revelation 7:1-8, Luke 9:51-62

Along the road to Jerusalem, Jesus gives terse responses to a few half-hearted disciples.

It is easy to say to Jesus, as the first wannabe disciple says, “I will follow you wherever you go,” when you have not considered the consequences. Jesus warns, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The implication is that following Jesus requires a readiness to do without some of the basic necessities of life. If one is not prepared for such a life, no amount of eagerness to jump on the Jesus bandwagon will compensate.

Two other would-be disciples seem unduly burdened with family obligations. “Lord, let me first go and bury their father,” says the first. “Leave the dead to bury their own dead,” Jesus replies. “But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

“I will follow you, Lord,” says another, “but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus, unimpressed, responds, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

These responses underscore the urgency of Jesus' mission and his eagerness to accomplish it. So, too, does his response to James and John, who want to call down fire from heaven to consume those who will not receive Jesus' message. There is no need to be impatient on the road to Jerusalem. Neither is there is any place on that road for those who are not willing, first, to count the cost (as the first wannabe disciple apparently had not done) and, second, to forsake everything to follow Jesus (as the other two wannabes were not willing to do).

James and John wanted the instant gratification of seeing Jesus' enemies destroyed right then and there. Jesus had other plans for dealing with those who rejected him. The first wannabe disciple did not understand the radical implications of discipleship beforehand. If he had, he would not have been so eager to jump on board. Had the other two wannabes been ready to follow Jesus, they would have taken care of their family obligations beforehand.

In all three cases, there is a misdirected zeal which Jesus finds unacceptable. His mission is urgent, but it does not require impatience. What it does require is sacrifice and a willingness to be ready for the long haul. Only by those who, having forsaken all else, are willing to follow Jesus all the way to the cross without looking back are fit for the kingdom of God.


Jesus Calls Us O'er the Tumult