“Jesus said to another, 'Follow me.'”
“He said, 'Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father's funeral.'”
“Jesus refused. 'First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God's kingdom!'”
“Then another said, 'I'm ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.'”
“Jesus said, 'No procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.'”
Luke 9:58-62, The Message
“Later on the Lord commissioned seventy other disciples and sent them off in twos as advance-parties into every town and district where he intended to go.”
“There is a great harvest,” he told them, “but only a few are working in it—which means you must pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send out more reapers.”
“Now go on your way. I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a purse or a pair of shoes, and don’t stop to pass the time of day with anyone you meet on the road...”
Luke 10:1-3, Phillips NT
|This is my workshop|
In my line of work I meet with disciples of Jesus (mostly) once a week. The exception to that would be the young folk from our fellowship and other ones that gather every Wednesday night in our sanctuary for Focus and the elders, deacons and other ministry leaders of Refuge whom I meet with twice monthly. But for the majority of the people who consider Refuge their personal faith community, I see them once a week – if I'm lucky. No one is ever there every Sunday (not even me) and frequently we have guest speakers who share during the teaching time of our weekly worship gathering. While I make a stab at either hugging or patting on the back everyone who shows up, some of them are just too quick for me. They're out the door right after the last prayer. I really feel the need to connect more intentionally with the people who make up our group but I'm also a husband and a father and a chaplain at the Justice Center and a coach and, from time to time, a substitute teacher. What's more, at this time of year I need to cut my grass and get my garden in. And so what happens is that desire or not, beyond my 30ish minutes of preaching (okay, I admit it usually is longer than that) my only face-time with the disciples of Jesus who gather at the corner of Leonard and 8th in Chetek on Sunday mornings are fleeting bits of conversation that you are accustomed to hear at a wedding or a reunion – more like half-conversations that are interrupted intermittently. Usually, by 12:30ish the building is empty and it's time to lock-up and go home or on to my next ministry assignment. Suffice to say, it's not the greatest environment for making disciples. But at the end of the day (or the morning), I head home for some family time and, usually, to take a short nap. That kid I wanted to pray with? I'll catch up with him on Wednesday night. That guy I wanted to check up on, well...hopefully next week. After all, I have all the time in the world, I reckon, to do what needs to be done.
|"First things first..."|
But during the last week or so, I've come across these verses (again) and the contrast between Jesus' attitude regarding the kingdom and mine couldn't be starker. To the guy who asks permission to attend to his family responsibility of presiding over his father's funeral, Jesus is not a bit understanding. “My business is much too urgent for that kind of low priority stuff!” Say what? I can hear the guy muttering (and me, too.) What possible difference could a few days actually mean? Besides, all he's doing is tying up some loose ends. Jesus, of course, will have none of it. “First things first. Your business is life not death. And life is urgent...” (9:60, Msg). In other words, top priority for any disciple of Jesus whether he is a pastor or a contractor, whether he works at Subway or Sugar Bol Farms is the Kingdom of God. Everything else is a distant second or lower. Jesus replies to the other guy who just wants to put his affairs in order, give his two week notice at work, say good-bye to his mom and dad or wife and kids. “Nothing doing,” Jesus says. “Carpe diem. Seize the day. Jump. Go. NOW.” Easy (we say). Chill. All those sinners will be there tomorrow. But apparently Jesus sees it differently. The announcing of the kingdom of God is more than urgent. It's dire. For lives are at stake.
|Time is critical|
Frankly, I don't take my work that seriously. I mean, I am cognizant of the fact it's important work that I do. A word or a series of words strung together rashly or immaturely can do serious damage to a soul. Being AWOL when someone in your care is at a spiritual crossroads is reckless. But the reality is these people of Refuge listen to Christian radio and a plethora of other ministers either on TV or via podcast. I'm a voice but just one of many that they listen to. They certainly don't cling on every word I say. In fact, it appears my words are so soothing that they often put some of them entirely out. Besides, I speak to the choir who have heard the Gospel sound-bite time out of mind: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But reading Jesus' response to these two would-be followers makes me think I am too passé about matters that he clearly sees are life or death.
When he sends the 70 (or 72 depending on your preferred version) out, he gives them a series of instructions that sound odd to my 21st Century ears among them which are, “...Don't carry a purse or a pair of shoes and don't stop to pass the time of day with anyone you meet on the road” (10:3, Phillips NT). What? Are we suddenly to travel mendicant-style from town to town barefooting our way just like any hippie from the 70s? What about all those “No shirt. No shoes. No service” signs? And why can't we chat and visit a bit like good Midwesteners are wont to do. What about all that talk about developing a friendship with unchurched Harry or Mary? Meaningful relationships cannot be microwaved. They grow at their own rate. But the way I read this it's like Jesus is saying, “Put your game face on. The sky is about to fall and no one knows. We gotta get the word out because time is critical.” Again, the contrast between my style of ministry and the one Jesus is advocating here are miles apart. I'm certain he's not in need of adjusting his style so why am I so laid back in mine? Why indeed.
A little background study reminds me that the onus of both texts is a sense of urgency and therefore disciples of Jesus are to be single-minded in how they spend their lives. We are not here to live a good life, be a good citizen, pay taxes and go to church as often as we can. We are to keep the main thing the main thing: God's kingdom is breaking into history and wise people prepare themselves for the age to come and pass the word to any and all to do the same. The sky will fall at a time no one knows so “...people get ready. Jesus is coming. Soon we will be going home. People get ready Jesus is coming to take from the world his own...” The Great Harvest is at hand. In the words of Michael Wilcock:
The message is a matter of life and death: the last judgment is in view, heaven and hell, eternal bliss or woe, which will be determined by the acceptance or rejection of the divine message (10:12-16). (The Message of Luke, Intervarsity Press, © 1979, p. 120).
The 70/72 are to travel extremely light. Thus the charge to not pack extra shoes and sandals (or money for that matter). They are not on a sight-seeing vacation. They are on a mission of the utmost seriousness that may, in fact, determine the fate of entire communities. And this is why they are not to behave like everything's fine and chit chat about the weather with strangers. Judgment draweth nigh (and within 40 years of their mission that is exactly what happened.)
Writes Professor Darrell Bock:
There should be no doubt...that eternal life and death are the issue when it comes to Jesus. Our era has made it easy to pass off religious opinion as if we were choosing flavors at an ice cream store. God is not so cold as to allow such important matters to be left to human whim. In offering his Son, he has put the true life to death, so that men and women can experience life. In death the true life has removed any obstacle that may stand in the way of relationship with God. Strange as it may seem, the world often accuses God of narrowness for opening the way so wide through his Son. What seems as a narrow way in Jesus is in fact a door that opens up to a vast field of blessing. Jesus will speak of his message as the narrow door in 13:24. Disciples know that the key is not the width of the door but where it leads. (Luke: The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, © 1996, p. 297)
I should not take myself any more seriously than I do now but I should, it seems, take greater care to keep my wits about me in my preaching, teaching and the content of my conversations. The matter is life and death. Time is critical. Peoples lives really do hang in the balance. If my neighbor's house was on fire and I thought he was still inside, I hope I wouldn't hang back for fear of being impolite. The only right response in that instance is to go bang on the door rudely and make sure he can get out. I can't help but think that all our talk of “not wanting to shove the Gospel down anyone's throat” only makes us less likely to share at all. And clearly that is not what Jesus is saying here.