SJF• Proper 8c • Tobias Haller BSG
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.+
Have you ever given someone directions, and then realized too late, after the person is on their way that you’ve left out some important detail, some turn of the road, or an important landmark? Well, I know I have. I’ve also been known to yell out, Turn left here; left, left — all the while meaning right! We all like to think we know where we are going, or at least hope that others think we know where we are going. Some people — men, in particular — will often drive for miles out of their way rather than ask for directions! We like to know where we are, and where we are headed. If you ask for a map and someone hands you a blank piece of paper, you are not likely to be amused.
Yet this seems to be just what Jesus does today, when an unnamed “someone” comes up to him and says he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus answers him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Now, Jesus knows full well where he is going: he is going, as he tells the unnamed “someone”, “nowhere” — a very particular nowhere. For the days have drawn near for him to be taken up. His datebook is marked, his appointment set and calendar confirmed: Jerusalem, Good Friday, three o’clock in the afternoon — crucified, dead and buried just outside the city walls. Jesus is headed for the great “nowhere” called death, death on the cross.
And who really wants to follow him there? Who of the folks so eager to be with Jesus in today’s gospel would go with him if they knew his destination? And how many of us are ready to take up our cross and follow him, as last week’s gospel reading told us to do? Are we free enough to take up that yoke of service, to crucify our expectations and desires for the sake of the kingdom of God?
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Jesus encounters three people in today’s Gospel: the enthusiast, the postponer, and the half-hearted. And the answer to all of them, and to all of us, is the same: stay with Jesus come what may; don’t delay in seeking him. And trust in him with your whole heart: for only in him is salvation to be found. Jesus shows us, in this Gospel, the place, the time, and the way in which we should follow him.
First comes the willing enthusiast, ready (it seems) to follow Jesus wherever he goes, only to fade into the background when Jesus says that following him will not lead to security, but risk. How many of us remember the early days when we first discovered the faith, and the consolations it brought? And then came those dry spells, when God seemed distant, and prayer and worship seemed routine; and we lost our sense of direction for a bit, perhaps even losing sight of Jesus himself for a time. Thank God we stuck with it, persevering through the dry valleys until we reached the refreshing springs again.
Yet as I look out and see the empty spaces in this very church, I can’t help but wonder, how many have yet to find the way to the water of life! And what can we do to help? This is a challenge, a challenge as great as the one that Jesus issued to the man who said he’d follow him anywhere. If you would follow Jesus anywhere, then at least follow him somewhere — here to the church, where he has promised that when two or three are gathered he will be in their midst. And wouldn’t it be nice if it was two or three hundred — and it can be if we reach out with the same enthusiasm with which we come in. For we know that this is the place where Jesus is.
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Next comes the postponer. Now, this point is easy to miss: the man is not saying, My father just died so let me bury him. That would be over and done with by sundown, according to the law. What this man is saying is, Let me wait until my father dies, and I come into my inheritance, then I will follow you. And Jesus’ response to him is a warning: if you are not free enough to give up the hope of your inheritance now, you will not be free to give it up once it is in your hands. The wealth of this world is dead baggage that will drag you down, in anticipation or in actuality. Drop it now, put it down now, and go and proclaim the kingdom that cannot be bought with money. Lay aside the earthly burdens that will tie you down with a false hope or a burdensome certainty — and be led by the Spirit’s tether, God’s Spirit that will lead you to God. Now is the time.
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Finally we have the half-hearted soul, the one with divided loyalties. And this is the hardest challenge: who would leave home without so much as a goodbye? Yet the teaching Jesus proclaims here is not to be rude to your family, but to remain focused on the goal. There can be no half-hearted disciples in the kingdom of God. Those more interested in looking over their shoulder to check if the world approves of them, will lose sight of Jesus, the only one whose approval, in the final analysis, counts. This is how we should follow Jesus: not beset by insecurity, not looking over our shoulder, but whole-heartedly, keeping our eyes fixed on him. He is the Way.
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And so it seems that the map that Jesus gives us is not so blank after all. No, it is all too clear! This is the place, now is the time, and he is the way. Foxes have holes, and birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. He himself is the place, and the time, and the way, a map first displayed on a little hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, a map spread out and nailed to a cross, a map that shows us salvation in the flesh of Jesus Christ, in whom we have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, and live in the power of the Spirit, in the kingdom of God the Father, to whom be glory now and for ever.+