Canon Walter Lewis: The discipleship of Jesus is not just for the moment
My thought to you for this weekend is about 'The Way of Discipleship'. I wish to focus on some of the hardest and most difficult sayings and teachings of Jesus. They are from St Luke's Gospel.
The context is the new and final phase of Jesus' earthly ministry. His ministry in Galilee was complete. He now set his face to go to Jerusalem - there to suffer and to die, and to bring his mission to its climax.
At this stage, the matter of discipleship - and its nature and quality - is brought centre stage. What should be the nature of discipleship of Jesus?
The answers, given by Jesus, seem to be demanding, unreasonable and inhuman. So let us look at them.
As Jesus and his disciples were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go". Jesus said to him: "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
Here was someone who was clearly drawn in principle, in his mind, into the way of discipleship of Jesus. But, Jesus is telling him: "Before you follow me, count the cost. The animals -foxes and birds - have places to live, but you will be following a person who has no such security, and cannot guarantee any such security to you. Following me is truly costly." The implication is that the man may have had second thoughts.
To another, Jesus said follow me. But he replied: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him: "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." Here was another potential disciple. But he needed to discharge his sacred duty to his father. There is a startling response from Jesus: "No, leave the obligation of burying your father, and go, proclaim God's Kingdom."
Another said: "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him: "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God." Here was a perfectly reasonable, human and loving request to which, it seems, Jesus said: "No. You cannot so much as turn back to attend to this very basic human duty. You must only look forward."
Here, in this instance, Jesus likened the disciple to the ploughman in the field. The ploughman had taken hold of the plough handles.
He dare not take his eyes off the course ahead. To look back would be disastrous. The disciple had stepped onto the way of discipleship. He must now look to the Kingdom and, like the ploughman, plough a straight furrow - forward.
What then do we make of these words of Jesus? Discipleship, yes, but no home, no father's funeral, no farewell to family. Why was Jesus, apparently, so demanding and drastic? Yes, these words are very surprising, radical and urgent. But, the key is that Jesus is laying before these would-be disciples the cost of following him. These sayings in St Luke's Gospel give the sharpest evidence of the urgent nature of Jesus' mission.
One theologian has written, "It is a far cry from steady living in the Christian life. Beginning the Christian way is not difficult, but persevering in it needs the strength that only God can give. Certainly, note the words of Jesus, but reflect closely on the spiritual message".
The heart of that message for you and me today is that discipleship of Jesus is not just for the moment but for the sustained commitment of prayer, worship and mission for Jesus.