Obey or Delay

24 Jul 2017

Luke records that one day, while walking along the road, Jesus encountered three individuals with whom he had conversations about the cost of appropriating his teaching. When Jesus beckoned the second of the three to follow him, the man requested permission to first take leave to bury his father. Jesus responded:
‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:59-60).

Ouch! That sounds harsh. Will following Jesus keep us from attending our parents’ funerals?

‘Let the dead bury their own dead…’

Interestingly, in a parallel passage, Matthew notes that this man is already a disciple of Jesus (Matt 8: 21). Why then would Jesus call a disciple to follow him? After all, a disciple is by definition a follower, right? I think the answer lies in the idea that not all followers are in fact followers. At least, they are not experiencing the intimacy that comes with proximity. In other words, someone may well be a disciple of Jesus, but following at a distance (and perhaps only flirting around the edges) is hardly a pledge to followership at any cost. And, frankly, following Jesus entails commitment beyond convenience.Joy and I were involved in Christian ministry overseas when my parents were victims of a devastating car accident some years ago. A speeding drunk driver rammed his out-of-control car into my parents’ car. My mother’s neck was broken and she died instantly. My father sustained a head injury from which he never fully recovered. My sister called me in the early hours of the morning, and Joy and I made our immediate way to Australia. In my extended family, I am the eldest son, and we needed to be home with family to grieve the loss of my mother, and, in some ways, the loss of my father. We had to play our part in mum’s funeral. When a parent dies, it’s appropriate for their adult kids to be present. Is Jesus being insensitive in his response to this disciple?

If this man’s dad was dead, he would hardly be on the road following Jesus; he’d be home where he should be, fulfilling his obligations. Jesus is not insensitive to human loss. I suspect this guy plans to follow Jesus more closely once his father has passed away (when dad is dead and buried). In the meantime, he’ll do what’s convenient, and hang around at a distance.

When Jesus calls disciples to follow him more closely, he invariably commands them to go. It seems a paradox. Follow and go. And it would be a strange thing except Jesus has promised to always be with his followers. He will never leave them. Where they go, he goes. There is no place they can be where he is not. Rather than waiting for the most convenient time in life to closely follow Jesus, “go and proclaim” the good news of the gospel when Jesus calls. Obey his commands, share his love, live your faith out loud. If you are a follower of Jesus, he has claim on your life.

Don’t let anything keep you from following hard after God. Don’t let anything prevent you from sharing with others life-changing news. Not even good things.

Simon Longden
Pioneers Australia National Director

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