Rebecca Boardman, a Programmes Manager in the Global Relations team of the Anglican Mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) explores this week’s lectionary Gospel reading, Luke 9.51-62 . For a number of years USPG has had a supportive working relationship with the Diocese in Europe and Rebecca is responsible for fostering and developing this link.
Working for USPG and encountering Christians around the world I am consistently challenged and inspired by the sacrificial ministry of so many who have their eyes focused on God’s mission for our world.
In this week’s passage in Luke’s gospel Jesus speaks directly about the cost of discipleship and what it means to participate in God’s mission. These conversations occurred as ‘Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem’ … ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven’ (9.51). In travelling to Jerusalem Jesus was aware that he was facing suffering, crucifixion and death but with boldness, courage and unwavering determination he continued forward to fulfil God’s plans.
It is upon this journey that Jesus meets three individuals and challenges them on the reality of the cost of true discipleship, seeing whether they hold the same unwavering determination to participate fully in the mission that God has us.
I believe that the set of statements in verses 57-62 provide us with the space to reflect on those things that keep us from following Jesus fully. I wonder what these are in our own experiences?
Each of the three people that Jesus encountered expressed a willingness to follow him, however they also had their own conditions or assumptions about what this would mean. In many ways these requests (such as burying their father or saying goodbye to their family) sound reasonable or indeed are integral to respect culture, or were they only a means of procrastination and hesitance? Jesus contrasts all these things focusing his sight resolutely on God.
The first person that Jesus encounters says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes, quick to join Jesus’ journey. I wonder what this individual had in mind at that offer? What were his preconceived ideas? Jesus asserts that ‘the Son of Man has no place to lay their head’, that the journey will not be comfortable. When things are exciting we can jump in in haste without careful consideration. Even with good intentions if we are not vigilant and discerning we can follow our own agendas rather than have our eyes focused on God often with disastrous consequences. Discernment takes time. It takes us to be in relationship with others and hear God’s voice together.
The second person speaks about following Jesus after he has buried his father. Death and the subsequent inheritance can provide stability. Knowing that we can provide for ourselves is a form of human safety net which means that we do not have to rely fully on God. This can mean we procrastinate making the decision to fully jump in. My experience is that the vulnerability of uncertainty is one of the most challenging things about being human. Yet I have found that it is exactly within this vulnerability that there is a space for encounter with the Spirit of God and to be deeply transformed. It is in this place where we can be surprised by the joy, provision and community in Christ and join more fully in the mission of God.
The third asks to ‘go back and say goodbye to my family’, there is a hesitance in joining with Jesus focusing on the past instead. Jesus compares this attitude to ploughing a field whilst looking backwards and in doing so the plough goes off course. Today, this would be like driving a car but staring into the backseat! We cannot set our eyes on the future that God has for our world when we are looking backwards.
I reflect on this as we consider the mission that God has for us – both as individuals and as Church. How often are we so keen or excited that we rush in following our own agenda rather than listening, praying and seeking what God is already doing in that place? How often does our fear of being vulnerable and losing stability prevent us from fully experiencing God’s mission? And how often are we so stuck in the past and how things have been done before that we do not hear the new, pioneering and creative ways that God is acting in his world today?
*The resources of the Lent course can be accessed here: https://www.uspg.org.uk/resources/lent2019/?n=lent