It is obvious from today’s gospel that Jesus is not promising us a rose garden. He cannot even promise His followers a place to lay their heads. He even seems harsh in His demands of loyalty. His concern is more for quality rather than quantity. And He will not take excuses. The man who said “let me bury my father” was, in effect, saying I am not yet ready to give my life to you. There is no indication that his father was already dead. In His compassion, Jesus would surely have given the man time to go to the funeral. The father was probably still alive, and these words only highlight the urgency of the invitation.
You see, in everything, there is a critical moment. If that moment is missed, the thing most likely will never be done at all. The man in the story wanted to make changes to follow Jesus. Now was the time. If he did not seize the moment, he would let it slip through his fingers. Psychologists tell us that every time we have a fine feeling and do not act on it, the less likely we are to act on it at all. The emotion becomes a substitute for action. Sometimes we feel we would like to write a letter; perhaps a letter of sympathy, a letter of thanks, or a letter to heal a relationship. If we put it off until tomorrow, it will in all likelihood never be written.
Our gospel today tells us that there was nothing eccentric about Christ. In many ways He was quite ordinary. He was a Jew of His time. He was born of a Jewish maiden and died five miles from His manger. He came in his own words, eating and drinking. He came to Cana for a wedding to Bethany for a burial. He ate with respectable people like Martha and with outcasts like Matthew, the tax collector. He felt at home with everyone, not only with Peter’s mother-in-law, but with Mary who had seven devils and the Samaritan woman who had five husbands. Children curled up in His arms, and grown men like Nicodemus talked far into the night with Him.
He could grow angry, angry enough to whip money changers from the temple. He could also sympathize with a widow who had lost her son. He wept over Jerusalem and over Lazarus. He knew the thoughts of shepherds, farmers and fisherman. He spoke the language of His people, He spoke of war and peace, He worked with His hands and He learned what hunger and thirst were. He was tired enough to sleep through a storm in an open boat. He knew what it meant to flee for His life. To be cursed and spat upon; yes, Christ was very human. And yet, He was more than human. Not simply because He was God. His life is a living proof that human life can be thoroughly human. And yet, He lived on a level above human.
In His every action, whether He came eating and drinking or preaching and praying, living or dying. In His every action, there shone a love that was not born of man. His life was a living lesson. Love God with your whole heart; love your neighbor as yourself. His life, human as it was, was one long act of love that found its consummation in the crucifixion. His crucifixion was for the objects of His love, for every human being who has ever come or ever will come into His world. In His public life, Christ could not be disregarded and He intended it so. He intended that every human being who touched the hem of His garment or looked into His eyes or heard His voice should put a question to themselves.
“Is this for me? Is this the way human life was meant to be lived? Is this fascinating marriage of the human and the more than human…is this what is lacking in my life?” And there, I submit, lies your vocation as Christians. Christians are very much a part of their world. We work and eat and sleep just like everyone else. We sorrow and laugh; we are moved to anger and pity. We are quick to be hurt and maybe a little slower to forgive. We marry or stay single, we vote as we please and statistics show very little difference between us and non-Christians. And yet, there should be a difference, because your life-human as it is- is more than human. Scripture tells us that to be a disciple of Christ; you have to lose your life in order to find it.
I do not know what life it is that Christ is asking you to surrender? What is keeping you from Him? I do know there are special moments; critical moments in every life where to be a Christian you have to choose to commit yourself. To risk and give up something that rules your life or something that takes the place of Christ. It could be anything from material goods to position and power, honors and glory. The peril is simply that they are mine and can dominate my existence and manipulate me. Like money, never enough. More power, never enough. If they do, all else takes second place, including Christ.
In other words, what rules your life? What makes you tick? Who or what rules your heart? Something does or someone does; or-dreadful thought-perhaps nothing does. Today’s gospel my friends is heavy metal. There is nowhere to lay your head; do not look back and keep plowing. But still, it is good news and glad tidings. What is so good about it? It answers a critical question-how shall I live? Make sure no person-however deeply loved-no thing however precious, pre-empts the place Christ should occupy in your priorities. Stop trying to fit Christ into your life, instead try fitting your life around Christ. And ask yourself, is this for me? Here is a life, thoroughly human and yet more than human. Is this the way human life was meant to be lived?
There is something about the human spirit that rises to the challenge when asked. The trouble is that we are not confronted with such challenges very often. So, we drift along in our self-serving and self-satisfied ways. But God meets us every day with a challenge. If we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it, He calls for the best in us every day of our lives. Following the one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”