“Let the dead bury the dead”

Pentecost 3 – 2019

Luke 9:51-62

Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to give our all, hearts, minds, souls and bodies. Amen.

The story of Father Rob Galea referred to in today’s Pew Bulletin is just one example of a convert who has carefully weighed up the consequences of becoming a Christian before taking the final step of faith.1 There are many well-known Christian thinkers and leaders who report that their coming to faith was costly or was met with a degree of resistance on their part. They have understood that giving one’s life to God is, as Father Rob recognized, a matter of complete surrender, a willingness to give up absolutely everything in order to place God at the center of one’s existence. Accepting Jesus is not a decision to be taken lightly – it could mean a complete change of direction, the relinquishing of wealth, relationships or intellectual objections to faith or, particularly in nations in which conversion is illegal, it could mean accepting martyrdom as the likely consequence of coming to Jesus.

I wonder how many of us have had this experience or whether, as those who have never known a time when we did not believe, really understand the cost of discipleship.

“Let the dead bury the dead.” Verse 51 begins a new section in Luke’s gospel. These apparently harsh words reflect Jesus’ awareness of what lay ahead of him. Jesus “set his face towards Jerusalem”. Luke is making it clear to us that this is no ordinary trip, it requires both determination and resolution. Jesus is not going to Jerusalem because he wants to, but because he must. He knows that what lies ahead of him is not recognition and acclamation, but rejection, suffering and death and he is anxious that those who want to follow him understand the dangers that they will face and be prepared to take the risks that discipleship him will entail. If Jesus’ would-be followers are not fully committed, they will be disappointed. Worse, they will be wasting their time. They might just as well stay at home because if they do not understand the costs now, they will be completely at a loss when things turn bad. Jesus knows that those who will last the distance will be the people who really grasp the world-shattering nature of his mission and his message. They are the ones who will be ready to sacrifice everything, even their lives, to be a part of Jesus’ project to change the religious and social culture of which they are a part.

After Jesus’ death the lives of his disciples will be radically changed – in ways that at this point they cannot even begin to imagine. “Let the dead bury the dead.” Jesus is saying: “do not come with me if you do not think that you will make the distance.”

Jesus’ words, harsh as they sound to us, should not be unexpected. Earlier Jesus had warned the disciples of his impeding suffering and death. He has informed them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” Those who follow Jesus must understand the consequences of discipleship – there is no glory to be had, only acceptance of the call and a willingness to do or to endure whatever lies ahead.

Those who are willing to give up everything and follow Jesus are not abandoned or left to their own devices. According to Luke, Jesus uses the journey to Jerusalem to teach the disciples, to prepare them to continue his mission after he has gone. For the next ten chapters – up until his arrival in Jerusalem – Jesus will share with the disciples his radical understanding of God and of the relationship between God and God’s people.

Jesus’ will undermine their traditional views of God with parables like the forgiving Father; he will expose the rigidity and hypocrisy of the Pharisees; he will remind them that earthly possessions are temporary; he will challenge them to remain focused and to expect his return at any given moment; he will demonstrate in word and action that it is the intention of the law, not the letter of the law that is important; he will overturn concepts of honour and shame; he will shock them with positive stories about the Samaritans and negative stories about the rich; he will confront their narrow views as to who is and who is not included in God’s kingdom; and he will dare them to use their gifts to the very best of their abilities. In other words, he will open their eyes to a new way of seeing and equip the disciples to teach the good news as he understands it.

At the same time, Jesus will give the disciples confidence to carry on his mission. He will empower them to do all that he can do and declare that even the demons will submit to them. Jesus will give the disciples courage to endure whatever difficulties they might face – reassuring them that even the hairs on their head are counted and letting them know that if they are brought before the courts the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say.

From now until the end of November, we will travel with Jesus and the disciples towards Jerusalem. We, with the disciples will be challenged to see the world as Jesus sees it, we will be formed for ministry and prepared to face whatever difficulties may lie before us.

Today we have a moment to stop and think: “Do we really understand the cost of God’s call on our lives?” “Have we really committed ourselves to follow where ever it is that God will lead us?” and, if push comes to shove; “Will we put our hand to the plough and not look back, no matter what temptations lie behind and no matter what difficulties lie ahead?”

Father Rob Galea stands out because he is Maltese, a singer, and he lifts weights. He explained to Meredith Lake on the ABC that his decision to be a Christian was not one that he took lightly. He had to ask himself whether he was able to surrender everything – his music (which to that point had been his means of earning an income and which had given him a degree of renown across the world), marriage and family (which included breaking up with his girlfriend of 4 years whom he had hoped to marry) and anything else that God might be asking him to give up as part of this vocation. In the end, Rob felt that in order to have the relationship with God that he desired, he was willing to give up anything and everything.

 

 

 

 

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