We begin this morning ruminating on the passages ascribed from the Gospel of Luke. In addition to my own reflections I encourage you to participate in the group offered by the circle of life-long learning during the 9 oclock hour. “The stories Jesus told” will offer an opportunity to engage and discuss the scriptures in Luke in greater depth and reflection.
“Now large crowds were traveling with him…” We tend to judge the success and merit of something based upon the “numbers.” But if you read the gospels, you will notice how Jesus tends to be most provocative or challenging when the crowds around him swell with curious on-lookers, or critics and sceptics. He generally challenges their motives for being present or he makes some of his most difficult statements and teachings. We can imagine Jesus looking out at the growing numbers and instead of strategizing how to keep and grow the flock further, Jesus determines how to shake off the stragglers and the casual curious.
My accounting teacher in college practiced the same strategy every year in his accounting 101 class. Every semester his student roll would number well into the 60’s. He realized that over half of his class were students who had no interest in accounting but were enrolled because some counselor included it to fulfill a business or math requirement. So Mr. Marquez, all 6’4 and approximating 300 lbs would do all he could to “weed out” the disinterested and slackers. He was mean, intimidating, and condescending for the first three weeks of the semester. Right up to the last day a student could “drop” his class and still be placed in another class. I know all this because one: I was one of his primary targets, and two, after surviving his hazing and noticing the change in his demeanor and treatment of the class, he told me what and why he was doing it. I felt proud that I remained in his class when 40+ others had not.
Is this what Jesus was doing when he said things like, Hate your mother and father? Give up all your possessions, if you follow me you will have a cross to bear? Was he saying things up front that people generally learn further down the road? Was Jesus revealing the stark realities that some must face before they are truly free to walk in the grace and love of God?
We do know Jesus honored his mother to the very end. He chose to live in community that was both self-supportive and practiced sharing with others. And once he determined that he was to go to Jerusalem and face the corrupt powers of his day, he saw it to the end. He knew his life was not for the masses and was not for the proud and powerful. He was not interested in amassing a large following, But he was committed to sharing his life and his insights to a divinely appointed and sure few who would carry his teachings and life to the next generation. He was willing to share his life with others who would bear and believe and persevere through life’s tests and challenges. Jesus embraced his own life as simply one small mustard seed. A mustard seed, that if planted in fertile soil, nurtured and nourished, it would grow by the grace of God to become a great tree extending branches and new life year after year, season after season. Even though his life ended so tragically with a remnant of people remaining with him at the end, his life lived on for generations and even millennia.
So what can we take away from this morning’s passage? Invest your life, commit it deeply to something(s) and someone(s) whom you discern worthy of your sacrifice and commitment. Don’t believe in quick and easy yields but be willing to remain for the long haul. If you hear something provocative or challenging, don’t react or respond too quickly. Don’t rush to a quick understanding or explanation. Let the hard things said and done sit with you a good while. What does he mean, hate my mother and father, just yesterday he was affirming the commandments, and we see how he loves and respects his mother. Why are these things bugging me so much, what is the spirit doing in me? Do I have to give away all my possessions or is there a life-long learning between me and all I possess. Do I quit now because I do not like what I am hearing, or do I work it through a little farther down the road? And what is this cross I must carry?
Most of us here this morning have followed this man, Jesus, for much if not most of our life. We know what it feels like when we hear things we don’t like. We can reflect back in our life when it had become a crucible for suffering and pain. We know the difference between casual curiosity about something and an inner calling to follow and become.
Our life is the sum of all that we have persevered, of what we have seen through to the end. Of what we were willing to sacrifice and suffer for, of what we took stock and prepared for. Jesus gave his life to those whom he believed God had given him. He welcomed them and he loved them to the end. He did not give up on them, nor did he despair when they failed him. His life was one of grace and love. And that is what he left in the hearts of all he left behind. Jesus had loved them and somehow, even after his death,that love continued. That was the prize for hanging on when others walked away. That was the grace that gave them the strength and understanding to bear their own cross when those times came.
The treasure and meaning in life comes when we work and suffer things through to their maturity, to their completion. Our life becomes beautiful when we invest it fully in the precious few we know God has given to us. When we deem the others in our life worthy of sacrifice, suffering, and unreserved love..we walk the way that Jesus walked. And that is a beautiful life. Amen.