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March 8, 2015

Sunday OculiSigueme

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62

Epistle: Eph 5:1-8a

Psalm 34:16-23


I once took part in a seminar called “marketing for churches”. This may sound strange and out of place but the seminar itself had a good purpose. The usual definition for marketing is: “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large and aims to benefit the company satisfying customers.”
If we look at this text and how Jesus handled the matter of proclaiming the Gospel, we would think that Jesus was doing something wrong. He was confronting people who approached him to be his disciples. If I were a person who would work for the marketing section of a company, or as a publicist, I would advise Jesus to highlight neither the difficult things in the life of a disciple nor all those things that one would have to quit. Instead, I’d highlight the positives things; and instead, tell people that they will live forever if they will follow him. You have to paint all the joys of heaven: That there will be no pain, there will be no diseases, and yes, many healings and still here on earth; there will be no more tears, there will be no more disappointments, we will no longer grow old; there will be pure holiness! I would make clear the great advantages that people will have just following him because they would become part of a great and sincere communion amongst themselves and that they should be confident that the Father in heaven will be always at their side. They may expect healing in body and soul and in the blink of an eye they would be saved and have complete forgiveness of sins. I would think Jesus should communicate this to the interested people, and then you would have many followers. Whoever wants to win people for himself should highlight the advantages and not mention the disadvantages. Yes, that’s what I would say to Jesus if I would be a mere ordinary advertiser.

There are many churches that use the world’s marketing definition and get confused. They intend to offer a product that is divine in a human way and thereby do it wrongly. It is so wrong to write on banners outside of a ‘renovated’ church: “Come in today for a miracle!” —For those miracles are offered by God and are not from us. On the other side, there are also other churches that believe that Jesus was just a wise teacher and that the church is only an institution that spreads good values and promotes welfare in society, thereby ignoring or not believing in the Holy Spirit of God.

But I’m not a publicist, but simply a disciple of Jesus and preacher of the Gospel. It is not for me to give good advice to Jesus, but what is mine is to listen to him and respect his word. And I have to know that a disciple of Jesus often has to pass difficult issues.

So Jesus said to someone who was interested in following him: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus was a person who had no fixed abode and expected the same of his disciples, that they might, if necessary, spend the night outdoors. We cannot expect the same conditions for current followers of Jesus, although not directly. Whoever wants to be a disciple of Jesus must not move back into their own nest, or into the comfort of their home well away from the bad in the world. No, what Jesus wants for us to do is to mix together with people, provoke contact with others, to have the opportunity to bear witness of the gospel which we live, in word and deed. The disciples should be the salt of the earth and light of the world; and for that we mustn’t put the lamp under a table (Mt 5: 13-16). We must live so that we can interact and have relationships with people, even though many people can get on your nerves and are not at all friendly. This will sometimes be uncomfortable; perhaps as uncomfortable as ‘having to sleep outdoors on a winter night.’
But we may even be asked to do something even harder: there was one who wanted to follow Jesus but first wanted to take part in the funeral of his father. Here it is understood that in these cases we should have some consideration. Jesus, however, shocks us and doesn’t show any consideration. He told the man: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Let others go to bury his father but not the son! It means: that there are others who are not looking to Jesus as the source of life and who are spiritually dead, though their bodies may be alive.
The service for Jesus cannot be delayed; when Jesus calls us, everything else must take second place. For a disciple, Jesus must be the boss and his indications must have the highest priority. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” Jesus taught his disciples (Mt 6:33a) and that is still valid today. For a disciple of Jesus, nothing should be more important than doing the will of his Lord; neither family, nor making money nor voluntary work in associations, nor school, nor anything else. And when we take part in a funeral in the church, we do it for the reason that at this time, we mean to take this opportunity to announce the Gospel to those who are still alive, just as Jesus asked us: to proclaim the gospel of the Son of God that has overcome death. A funeral where Jesus is not the center, but rather the deceased person is, is not a Christian funeral; and there then as a disciples of Jesus we may choose to deal with more important issues.

And the end is still the hardest part: There’s one that says he wants to say goodbye to his family before starting his journey with Jesus. You’d think that, naturally, he should be allowed to do this and that it would be very rude and demanding to insist that he not say goodbye to his own. But again, Jesus reacts in a shocking way and says: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Or as one saying goes: “Whoever looks back while driving will crash against the tree.” Following Jesus is not for traditionalists, it is not for those still living in the past, and it is not for people who are not fully mature and still ‘sitting on the lap of their mother.’ It is not for nothing that Jesus has something against goodbyes; here he tells us where our priorities lie. Jesus must be more important than family or family traditions. The kingdom of God should be more important than the paternal house. The happy childhood is past; parents will ever leave us. Yes, sooner or later we will have to part with all our relatives and loved ones of this world. The future belongs to the kingdom of God and Jesus opens it to us with his Gospel.

Jesus’ words may sound shocking and unpleasant. Perhaps and surely more than one who has interpreted the Bible has wanted to take the drama out of it; these words may not be as drastic as they sound! Maybe we thought more than once, perhaps the father of the second candidate has not yet died; and maybe this person wanted to wait until his father dies and then bury him so he can then follow Jesus. Or maybe we thought, the family of the third candidate must have lived far away, and to say goodbye to his family would have meant a long journey.
But if you look around at the different possible interpretations: the requirements for a disciple of Jesus are still very shocking. Some Christians think that only a few and special Christians can become disciples of Jesus, others will be permitted to live a normal life and just believe in Him. However, Jesus said very clearly that all people become his disciples through baptism and teaching. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”, reads the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). While you look back: all of us who have been baptized and believe in Jesus, and are his disciples should live this way. We all are called to be witnesses; we should all put Jesus in the most important place, even before our own family and our own wellbeing. Yes, Jesus said this and what he thinks cannot be interpreted in a different way today.

There is one question we can ask ourselves that will lead us to the starting point of our message: Why is Jesus making things difficult and making the decision to follow Him so radical? Why isn’t he speaking of its huge advantages? Why did Jesus openly reject any good advertisement and why isn’t he taking advantage of the positive psychology of advertising?
And the answer comes quickly, which we find when we formulate another question: Do you think that the advertisements that surround us in everyday life are credible? Is all that tells us to buy this or that really reliable? Are we always satisfied with what we buy, or are the promises made to us exaggerated? Advertisement is not genuine. Advertisement disproportionally highlights the advantages and covers up all kinds of disadvantages on purpose.
If Jesus is rejecting this kind of strategy for His mission, what He wants to say to us is: ‘You can trust my words. I’m not going to hide the unpleasant and heavy involved in being my disciples. Instead, I will state them clearly. I am the truth and I tell the truth.’

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, these difficult words of Jesus about following him are nothing more than a help to strengthen our faith. These words show that Jesus wants to talk in a wide, open and honest way with us and he’s not interested in things being hidden. And because this is so, we can fully trust him and have the safest hope that the promised blessings that come from following him will not disappoint us. Jesus is the only true and enduring product, He is the only reliable one and He gives us an eternal warranty that starts when you decide to see Him as the Son of the Most Highly God. Amen.

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