The First Goose in the V--January 19, 2018
"Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, 'Teacher, I will follower you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' Another of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead'." [Matthew 8:18-22]
As a rule, Jesus never calls anybody to do anything that he himself hasn't done first.
That's important to say out loud and to see, because otherwise these words of Jesus from Matthew's gospel will seem impossibly harsh and even cruel. And yeah, obviously, these are difficult words to hear coming from the mouth of Jesus, the same mouth that says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." These are difficult words especially to hear in a culture like ours, one that has spent the better part of the last few decades trying to make Jesus into the champion of "family values" and to turn Christianity into just a religious form of parenting advice.
And yeah, but stick a pin in that for a moment. We'll need to talk about how much we may have sanitized Jesus to make him sound like he will never claim higher allegiance than your job, or your country, or your personal political preferences, or your family... when in fact, Jesus regularly insists on a higher allegiance from us than we give to any of those other pieces of our lives, higher even than all of them put together.
But first, we can only hear that rightly if we are clear from the starting gate that Jesus does what he calls us to do, and he has done it first, for that matter. He doesn't send us out as spiritual guinea pigs to test things ahead of him. We are not Jesus' cannon fodder to bear the brunt of the difficulty so that Jesus will come out after the smoke has cleared and the guns are silent. Jesus does the hard thing, and he does it first. Jesus is always the first goose in the flying V who bears the hardest headwinds while pulling us along to follow.
So when he reminds a would-be disciple that following him will mean abandoning the old connections and comfort of home, he points to his own situation: "Even foxes have holes, and birds get nests, but I am a homeless wandering rabbi. Following me will mean the same kind of homelessness." Jesus himself doesn't have a permanent mailing address (wow--just think for how much of our country's history Jesus would not have been allowed to vote if he had lived here, as someone who was neither white nor a real-estate owner!). So when Jesus tells those he calls that they will be summoned to be ready to let go of what they called "home," it isn't like he is a fraternity member hazing a new pledge, or that Jesus is grandfathered into the club without having to make the same sacrifice.
In fact, Jesus' homelessness is itself the reason for the homelessness of his followers--to be a follower of Jesus is to go where Jesus goes. And if Jesus has no home, but rather keeps wandering like a drifter dependent on the welcome of others, then yeah, we should expect that following him will also mean surrendering the comfort of a particular place or of nicely-accumulating equity to save up for a nice condo by the beach in our retirement. If you want to be where Jesus is, then that means actually being where Jesus is... which means being ready to pick up and where Jesus goes next.
The same, really, is true with the other would-be disciple who asks for the chance to wait to bury his father. Even though Jesus' words seem terribly harsh, it is at least worth considering that Jesus has done the same first. Jesus didn't stay rooted in Nazareth where his family all lived, and he didn't just pick up with the family business and keep the messiah stuff to the weekends as a hobby. He knew that his calling meant leaving some of that security and familiarity behind--even when surely the expectation of the day was that a good son would have stayed close to home to inherit the family business or house, and to take care of Mary (and presumably Joseph, for as long as he was in the picture), and to be a good older brother to all of his brothers and sisters. Jesus was willing to endure the social scorn of not being a "good son," as well as losing out on inheriting the house and homestead or whatever else was a part of that picture. So, yes, as hard as it is that Jesus tells a would-be follower, "Let the dead bury their own dead," those words come from someone who has put his money where his mouth is, and who has a mother (at least) waiting back at home while Jesus has picked up and gone to live his own calling.
So where does that leave us?
Well, on the one hand, it leaves us with good news--we are invited to be where Jesus is, and there is something compelling, something wonderful, something downright beautiful, about being wherever Jesus is. Just look at the stories--where Jesus shows up, parties break out and everybody (I mean everybody!) is included there. Where Jesus shows up, mercy transforms stingy hearts. Where Jesus shows up, the piously proud and puffed-up are taken down a few pegs and brought back down to earth. Where Jesus shows up, the poor have good news spoken to them. Where Jesus shows up, the dead are raised, the outcasts are welcomed in, and those who had been shamed into silence are invited into conversation over a cup of water at the well. All of that is to say, wherever Jesus is is the best possible place to be.
And if that's true, then when Jesus says, "To follow me, you risk losing the familiarity and security of a building called "home," he isn't adding a price tag to his call--he is simply being clear about what he is calling us into. You want to go where Jesus goes? Well, that's a moving target--he shows up in all sorts of unexpected places you would not have guessed a respectable messiah should go, and he does not hold office hours.
But if we had it in mind that Jesus' calling on our lives was just for an hour on Sunday mornings or would leave our priorities, our politics, our loves, and our security untouched, well here is the wake-up call. Jesus calls us to a new kind of life, not simply to be our weekend hobby.
Today, on this day, what things that have kept us feeling comfortable and secure might we have to leave behind, in order to be where Jesus is?
And by the same token, what amazing wonderful adventures might begin on this day for us by being where Jesus is when the party breaks out all around him?
Lord Jesus, we hear your call. Give us the faith to trust that you are worth it, and give us the courage to leave behind the familiar, the comfortable, and the secure to be where you lead us.