Then, secondly, there are those of us whose way of defending ourselves against deep seated fear and anxiety is to seek for certainty and safety. Jesus tries to encourage such a person out of their comfort zone, saying ‘follow me’. They respond by saying ‘first, let me go and bury my father’. Now that of course might be quite reasonable if their father had in fact died. However it is more likely that they are wanting to adhere to custom, to be quite safe and secure and do the usual thing, which was to care for their father until their death, which could be many years away. Jesus challenges them to break from tradition, urging them strongly ‘let the dead bury their own dead’. In other words, stop being so risk averse. Don’t worry about tradition and institution so much, rather get on with the task of proclaiming the kingdom. For this would-be follower the price of discipleship is giving up safety and security.
Then, thirdly. there is the kind of person whose instinctive defences lie in the area of relationship. This kind of person is kind and compassionate and wants to be sure that no-one is going to get upset with them. They will sacrifice anything for the sake of the relationship. Many clergy and pastoral carers are like this! So this would-be follower says to Jesus ‘I will follow you, but first let me say goodbye to the folks at home”. Now Jesus knows very well that if this person goes home to say goodbye, they will be drawn into all kinds of relational arguments and responsibilities and so will most probably never leave home at all. This kind of person wants everyone to be happy, so they suffer from what I sometimes recognize in myself as what I call ‘I’ll just-itis’ – I will follow Jesus, but I’ll just do the washing up, fetch the grandkids, make sure there’s food in the house first. For this would-be follower the cost of discipleship is being prepared to give up the approval and support of others if necessary.
Each of us faces our own challenges in following Jesus. I am confident that you will each have recognized something of yourself in those first would-be followers of Jesus. So whether for you the challenge and the cost of discipleship lies in giving over control to God, or in resigning safety and security, or in being prepared to risk losing the approval of others there is a challenge. It is a challenge that exists for our ultimate growth and wholeness. As we deepen our faith and continue on the Christian way, so gradually we learn to let go of some of those deeply ingrained patterns of life and behavior that we no longer need.
For what is it for each of us to follow Jesus? Obviously it does not mean simply copying exactly what He did, for even if we moved to Lake Galilee few of us are going to be able to walk on water. It does mean paying attention to some of the teaching that he gave, especially major directives such as the command to love even our enemies. Those of us who like to feel safe and in control can sometimes find great comfort in reading Jesus teachings as simply instructions. But following Jesus is something more deeply transformative of our whole being as individuals, and consequently of our world as we live in it as renewed people.
Jesus was the most completely alive human being who ever lived. He shows us what it is to live not out of fear and its defence mechanisms but out of love. To follow Him is to seek to become fully alive, to become fully the human being that God intended us to be before we learned to defend ourselves so effectively against our fears. For each of us the path and its challenges will be slightly different. For all of us the path leads to wholeness and transformation in Jesus Christ, whose invitation resonates down the centuries, ‘Follow me”. Amen.
Penny Jones for Pentecost 6, Year C, 26 June 2016.