Thursday 23 June 2016

Getting down to business

It might not seem right that the gospel story for the last Sunday in June should be about getting down to business.

The summer’s here and many people, especially children, will be looking for some holidays or at least some relaxation and enjoyment of the summer weather.  That’s our mindset: you work, you play.  And here’s a little story from Luke that begins “when the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  I think that’s Bible-speak for “I don’t have much time left, so let’s get some work done.”

And, certainly, lots is going to happen.  But first, four little vignettes will set the context for what kind of business this is - and it’s not how we understand business.

First, Jesus’ sends people ahead to make things ready, but the Samaritans who live in the next village aren’t really interested because he was headed to Jerusalem.  When the disciples want to punish them, Jesus rebukes them and moves on.  I think this isn’t about the whole Jews and Samaritans hate each other thing (see the Parable of the Good Samaritan later in Luke), but rather one of the reasons why: Samaritans believed that God should be worshipped at Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem.  I also think that this is Jesus saying “my business isn’t about punishment, it’s about love.  And, besides, they come to God their way.  That doesn’t make them bad.”

In the verses before “he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” we heard John complaining of someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name who wasn’t one of their group.  Jesus tells him not to stop him because “whoever is not against you is for you.”  Here he is again reminding his followers - and us - that doing good things isn’t about following the same rules or belonging to the same group.  What it’s about is doing good things and loving all, that’s the business at hand.

They move on and meet someone on the road who claims they will follow Jesus wherever he goes.  Jesus replies that he has no place to go to, “nowhere to lay his head.”  Even though he knows his days are limited, I don’t think Jesus sees the cross as a destination.  I think he wants this man - and us - to know that the journey is important, that each moment of the journey is important and we live into each moment.  Don’t focus on the past, Jesus might say, or the future, but this moment, that’s the business at hand.

As they move on, Jesus calls to another to follow, but this person wants to bury their father first.  “Let the dead bury their own dead,” says Jesus, “but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  That seems unduly callous and not very loving at all, Jesus.  And more than a little incongruous with the Jesus that was filled with compassion for the widowed mother who’d now lost her son, just a couple of chapters ago (Luke 7).  Remember, just outside of Nain?  Jesus restores the man to life, and thereby his mother, too.  And then there’s raising Jairus’ daughter from death (Luke 8).  Why would Jesus respond this way now?

Perhaps Jesus sees that this isn’t a moment for compassion or mourning or death and it’s not about all the complicated rules and rituals around first century Hebrew burials.  It’s a moment for proclaiming what the kingdom of God is all about: life.  This is the journey Jesus is on.  Following Jesus on the journey to new life, that’s the business at hand.

A final vignette is a man who says he will follow, but he wants to say goodbye to his family first.  That seems reasonable, but Jesus replies that you don’t go forward while looking back.  I don’t think Jesus wants the man to abandon his family or his former life, nor do I think that he wants him to forget them.  I think it’s about procrastination and hesitation and, for Jesus, the time is now.  Remembering the past and learning from the past is one thing, but a commitment to the past is not a way forward.  And the way is forward and Jesus is the way, that’s the business at hand.

Jesus is about the business of life.  That’s a journey where every moment counts, where every moment is about living.  It’s a life not confined by a set of rules, but open by love.  It’s full of work and play, labour and rest, because every moment is an opportunity for good, for healing and wholeness.  Jesus calls us to follow on this journey, that’s the business at hand.