By: Bernadette Moore-Gibson
“A life transition, like any effort to follow Jesus is about refocusing from one set of commitments to a new future.”
This week’s Gospel is challenging to digest. Jesus is warning the crowds that following him means that they must turn away from the people they love and detach themselves from the life they have known. Jesus is trying to shock the crowds into some sort of understanding of what’s to come. Jesus knows that most of the crowds will not be able to follow him to the cross. Jesus’ words are designed to shock the crowds into an understanding of the cost of following him. And now, these provocative words provoke us. These shocking words shock us. We all want desperately to justify our existence. We want desperately to know that our creation was not in vain. And like those who went before us, almost without fail, we turn to our parents and families to provide justification and the confidence we need to move forward. Luke’s Jesus calls people to a kind of discipleship that is not cheap, not easy, and not to be entered into without deep consideration of the consequences and costs. This passage speaks to the importance of loyalty and allegiance to Jesus over all other competing loyalties, including family, self-interest, and possessions. Salvation in Jesus is not merely a transaction. It is, at heart, a covenantal relationship. Because the one who redeems us also calls us into costly discipleship, Jesus’ command to “Follow Me” is both gift and demand.
This September, my transition from the hazy days of summer’s more casual pace back into our program year is tougher than usual. Most roads “back-to-school” are paved with lines of procedures, rules and formalized rituals. But I find the foundation of learning as I grow older, is far less formalized or predictable – it’s more relational, like a disciple and master, or a protégé and a mentor. A love of learning is sparked by an intellectual curiosity that comes not only from information, but from giving up one’s own privileges and pleasures in order to commit to a course of new loves, of formation, guided in relationship by the hands of a one who gently shapes others, like clay in the potter’s hand. The invitation of Jesus “to carry the cross” comes in a Greek verbal form which suggests it is not a short-term, a one-time hoisting up of temporary troubles, but a recurrent, lifelong, carrying of one’s cross. A life transition, like any effort to follow Jesus is stressful: packing and unpacking, bidding farewells, refocusing from one set of commitments to a new future.
My family is in the midst of a move to Indiana. We have one foot in our new home and another in the home we have filled with 25 years of memories, a home which we are trying to sell. Ours is a time of transition and maybe even a little metaphor to today’s Gospel. There are days when feel our foundation is shaken and we question where we belong. Luke’s message may be telling us that accepting the call of discipleship is one in which we are asked to be new creations in Christ’s image, with all the potential to be all that we can be. It is as if, God scoops us out of the waters of baptism and says, “Yes! This is exactly what I had in mind when I created you”. Turning away from and detaching ourselves from people, possessions and work so that we can follow Jesus means that: suddenly we no longer work to justify our own existence, we work simply because there is work that needs doing. We work because God has given us work that no one else can do, and because if we don’t do it, it simply won’t get done. On a deeper level, Jesus is asking us to give some thought as to how we want to spend the treasure that is our life. I would like to think the heart of Jesus message this week suggests that the goal of life is to find our way back to a relationship with God and then to align our hearts and minds with that of God, and if you are confused or lost that is the good news too! It is good news, because the very next three stories in Luke’s gospel are about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. It turns out that the God who wants us to follow him is very good at finding what is lost, rejoicing over it and bringing us home.
Bernadette Moore Gibson is the Director of Pastoral Care at Old St. Patrick’s Church.