There is a sense of purpose, immediacy, and danger framing Jesus’ movements in Luke’s Gospel (9:51-62) as we watch Jesus looking steadily towards Jerusalem, the end of his life and his earthly ministry. Jesus’ pilgrimage is becoming shorter and his ending more real for him, even if those around him remain oblivious. This sense of time running out is one many of us have because of age, illness or because of our overriding purpose as a disciple of Christ.
Jesus is clear, sharp and decisive in his teaching and conversations with his disciples on this journey. Jesus is a disturber of the peace. There is no room in his mind for prevarication and delay.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
On the journey, Jesus used his time to describe the character of the discipleship required from each of us if we want to be Christ followers.
One way to look at this is to see what aspects of our lives are affected by God. It seems to me the religious, emotional, intellectual, moral and socio-political justice beliefs together comprise the fullness of our commitment of our lives to God and discipleship of Christ, just as Jesus points out in Luke 9:51-62.
What do I mean by this? Firstly, we respond to God’s self-giving presence and loving action in our lives as the very centre of religious conversion and faith. God loves us. In God’s relationship with us and as we respond to God, God’s gift of faith invites us to commit our lives and reshape them in God’s image of love, in service to one another and the world. Our relationship with God reflects Jesus’ relationship with God and ourselves. It drives his ministry and courageous determination to meet his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, for the world.
Secondly, emotional conversion demands we face into our lives with all its brokenness, and our feelings of guilt, fear, anger, shame block our capacity to feel love, affection, friendship and empathy. As we let go of our emotional blocks, our capacity to experience God’s love, and the true, good and beautiful in life increases. This is why Jesus rebukes John and James for their desire to punish the Samaritan town which rejected Jesus. There is no place for this anger or judgement in God’s kingdom.
Thirdly, our intellectual conversion allows us to grow in faith, letting go of old ideas and beliefs as we grow in God. We move beyond uncritical and unquestioned acceptance of conventional ideas, and we grow and journey with Christ intellectually. The intellectually unconverted lean towards authoritarianism, rigid fundamentalism, black and white thinking. If we humbly acknowledge there is more than one right way or answer, we can admit our own mistakes and we can learn and listen.
Jesus’ radical command, ‘Love your enemies’ upends the commonsense of this world and points to a new and different perspective of God’s kingdom. Our thinking minds are invited to break down our old ideas and belief systems to see the mystery and glory of God.
Fourthly, moral conversion asks us to be actively forming our personal conscience in God. We are invited to become sensitive to the needs of others with a real, genuine commitment to their well-being. Our moral conscience grows generous self-giving to others and a willingness to die for our belief in God. For all of us who claim to be Christian, the extent of our unconditional commitment to God shows up our moral compass and love for the ‘other’.
As I then reflect on the apparent failure of the three would-be followers whom Jesus encounters, his responses highlight the truly radical nature of the discipleship being laid bare. Jesus demands an all-inclusive solidarity with humanity, without ifs and buts, without pre-conditions, as we reflect God’s unconditional love for us with others.
Finally, socio-political justice conversion takes responsibility for promoting the common good through just reforms of social institutions. It demands, for example, we respond to world poverty and famine, nuclear disarmament and opposition to war, sexism, racism, classism, and the protection of the environment, all things promoting the common good for all humanity, not just for ourselves.
Jesus announces the first shall be last and the last shall be first. God’s kingdom raises up the poor, the oppressed and those considered non-persons. The wealthy and privileged are called to humble themselves in lowly service to those in greatest need. God’s kingdom is a radical society where justice and peace reign and the poor and marginalised are privileged. The extent of our discomfort towards this part of Jesus’ Gospel shows us how far we must still go in our discipleship to break down this world’s power. Nevertheless, we are walking together on this journey of social justice, in God’s love.
These five conversions, religious, emotional, intellectual, moral, and socio-political justice, are all needed for us as Christians to be transformed in the image of Jesus. This is because they all work together and reinforce one another in the fullness of God’s love so we continue to grow in God’s image.
As Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem and meets the three would-be followers, we hear the first man wanting to follow Jesus, but Jesus is clear: discipleship means leaving everything behind; all his ideas, expectations and understanding of our world. Just like the new disciple, our lives too, are tipped upside down as we follow Christ.
The second follower asked to bury his father first. We all know in our grief at the death of a loved one, our obligations and commitments to sort out their lives and family expectations can overwhelm us. Our sense of identity is upended when parents die, and Jesus is instead, inviting each of us to begin a whole new life, to become whom we could become if we can only free ourselves from such chaos and commitments and perspectives, to see beyond the grief and to see God clearly.
The third encounter with a would-be disciple has him asking for time to say goodbye to his family. How often do we become indecisive, lack resolve, back out when considering the options, start to think the price is too high to leave our comfortable lives in search of God? We wonder if God is being unreasonable.
Yet Jesus’ own sense of urgency has him responding very directly and personally to each one of these enquiries. There is not much time left for him. Jesus is calling out to any who might choose to follow him and to his disciples already by his side, saying: by following me, Jesus, it means reordering your lives, including the possibility you might never settle down, you might never be wealthy or privileged, comfortable or accepting of the world or by the world.
In re-orientating my life in relation to Jesus means a single-minded resolve, looking forward to the work ahead, the risks and the joys. To become like Jesus, a disturber of the peace. It seems to me the radical demands of discipleship require a lifelong commitment to God without a backward glance. Let us celebrate the discomfort of such an invitation.
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds] 2014. Feasting on the Gospels. Luke, Volume 1. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, Kentucky, USA.