This coming Sunday we will be reading Luke 9:51-62 at worship. Now, I don’t give the primary teaching this week as it is our family worship service – but there are countless jokes about preachers and open mics for a reason. When Scripture is read, preachers gotta preach. So because that opportunity won’t be there for me this week (unless you travel out to St. John’s, Pennant, for the 8:30 am service), I’m offering a few reflections on the Gospel passage for this Sunday.
When we look at verses 59-60, we find another person along the road to Jerusalem. This person does not make the kind of offer that the first person made. The first person made an oath of unwavering loyalty to Jesus, sight unseen (and was challenged to count the cost – in a sense, to see the sight!), but this person is invited by Jesus to follow. The scene is somewhat similar to when Jesus called His closest disciples. Fishermen in their boats were greeted by Him with the same words, “Follow me!” Leaving everything, they followed. This person’s response to Jesus’ invitation is a little bit different.
The response is not uncommon, though perhaps the form that it takes is not what we’re used to. “First let me go and bury my father.” Now, we don’t know this person’s life situation. Perhaps he is on the road because he is travelling to see his father, who is sick. Perhaps he is actually on his way to a funeral! Or, perhaps the man’s father is in perfect health and his death (and burial!) will be at a future time that, at this point, cannot be guessed at. We don’t know the circumstances of this person’s life. We don’t know how long that hesitation to follow Jesus – that one condition that needs to be disposed of first – will take to run its course.
In a way, how long it takes is beside the point. The real difficulty is that it’s there at all. If a person is unwilling to do something, they come up with excuses. And excuse begets excuse – the more often such excuses are used, the more readily they roll off the tongue; the more easily they are dreamed up. Minds become hardwired to find reasons not to do, rather than ways to engage. Those milestones of life, those achievements or attainments, easily become hurdles to life – blocking us from taking part in new opportunities that come along. In this case, the person on the road has the chance to follow Jesus – to embrace the way of life, because he would be embracing the One who is the way, the truth and the life. The chance is missed.
What about each of us? When is it the right time for life – not the shadow of life that so many people endure: tossed about by the wind and waves of life, under the oppression of sin and sinful inclination, the tyranny of temptation – when is it the right time for real life? I know – when is it the wrong time, right? Yet how often do we erect hurdles, or build walls, that become self-imposed limitations on our own discipleship? At the prospect of committing myself anew, or in a fresh way; at the prospect of recommitting my life, the whole of my life, to Jesus, am I an excuse-maker? Do I see certain events, or milestones, as places to be reached before I can engage more deeply, or engage as I declare I intend to?
What might that say about the genuineness of my commitment, when I say that I would like to walk more closely with Jesus?