Sometimes Jesus just seems cranky, like during this road trip through Samaria (Luke 9:51-62). Someone offers to follow him, and Jesus encourages him to reconsider. You’ll have no place ever again to call home, Jesus tells him, no place even to rest (vv. 57-58). Jesus invites another, who wants to honor his father, and tells him, “Let the dead bury their own dead” (vv. 59-60). And to the one who wants to say farewell to those at home, he says essentially, “Just walk away and let them deal with the missing persons report” (vv. 61-62).
Maybe he’s just having a bad day and is tired, but I’m having some difficulty making sense of his attitude, the one who was love incarnate. He came proclaiming radical grace, announcing that we walk in grace the way fish swim in water (cf. Acts 17:28). Everything, every relationship, every encounter, he showed us, is a vessel of God where we meet the living Christ.
When we feed the hungry, Christ is there; when we welcome the stranger, Christ is there; when we clothe the naked, Christ is there; when we care for the sick, Christ is there; when we visit the prisoner, Christ is there (Matt. 25:31-46). So it makes sense that when we honor our father or mother, as God’s law requires, or when we show respect for the loved ones we leave behind by bidding them farewell, Christ is there, too, and when we offer love in the least circumstances of life, Christ is there.
So am I missing something here? Jesus said the cost of discipleship is high, but is this what he meant? Or maybe he meant something else. Since almost nothing in the gospels is meant to be taken merely literally, since everything is infused with deeper symbolic meaning, I’m going to assume that his challenges to these would-be disciples are more than they seem.
Suppose, for example, the caution about having nowhere to lay your head, no place to rest, means that there’s no end to growing in faith. Suppose what the church came to call “salvation” is not a one-time event but is an unending process of growth, that heaven is not a destination but a way of life, a way of being present in every moment you live. It’s a journey you’ll be on for the rest of your life, and there will be no stopping along the way.
Suppose the warnings about leaving the dead to bury their own dead and not looking back are really invitations to the future, invitations to be free of the scripts someone else has written for your life – your parents, your family history, your culture. Suppose they are invitations for you to be a new creation of God. “Whenever anyone is in Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17)!
The Samaritans Jesus visited would not receive him “because his face was set toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:53). Jesus would meet them where they were, but he wasn’t going to stay there. He was going on to the place where his faith was leading him, and if they would stay with him, they would have to follow. That’s what God does in Christ for all of us: meets us where we are and invites us along on a journey that will continue for as long as we live, a journey to our own unique “Jerusalem,” whatever that may be for us.
Each one of us has a moment of choice, countless moments, when we must choose whether we will stay where we are in our faith journey or continue growing into new life. It’s not a matter of moving to someplace new; it’s more a matter of being someone new in the place where we are, like the man who wanted to follow Jesus after he was healed but was told to return to his home and declare how much God had done for him (Luke 8:26-39).
Sometimes God calls us, like Abram, to a new place that God will show us. More often, God calls us to a deeper way of being in the place where we are today. If we want to be closer to God, we need look no farther than the ground beneath our feet. As Luke wrote, God has given us the places where we live so that we would search for God, and perhaps grope for God, and find God, for it’s in God that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:26-28).
Our place in this (or any) congregation is a gift from God, what St. Benedict in his Rule called “a school for the Lord’s service,” a community where God is at work to heal our brokenness and safeguard our love, where we will grow in wisdom as we grow in years (Luke 2:52) until all of us become “fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ” (Eph. 4:13 The Message).