Thursday, July 14, 2011

What It Means To Follow Jesus. A Homily for Matthew 13:44-52



First posted July 24, 2011, Year A

https://www.biblegateway.com








INTRODUCTION

Today's Lectionary Gospel reading actually confronts us with a most difficult challenge. Here we are accosted by the text, ambushed out of our comfort and easy discipleship. This text backs-up what I’ve always said, “Jesus is exasperating.” Too strong? Well certainly, as we are about to see, his ways are not our ways; his thoughts are not our thoughts. 

There are several ways into this text, the most productive of which may simply 
be to ask: What does it means to follow the Christ here at the beginning of the 21st century? However, this seems much too tame a rendering for what Jesus actually has in mind for his original hearers. Perhaps a better way into the text is to ask it this way: What are you willing to surrender in order to follow Jesus? 

Of course, we usually think of following Jesus in much different terms. We usually think of what we receive when we offer to walk the Jesus-way, but here Jesus turns the tables on us, if not his original hearers. Here Jesus talks about us seeking-out the kingdom and selling everything we have for it.

There are three statements we will use which allow the text to confront us:

TO FOLLOW JESUS IS TO SEEK HIM OUT 

TO FOLLOW JESUS IS TO SELL-OUT TO HIM & HIS WAYS 

TO FOLLOW JESUS IS TO LIVE IN LIGHT OF THE END OF THE AGE 



TO FOLLOW JESUS IS TO SEEK HIM OUT

The text reads:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds..." and "the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls..."
Let us begin by taking this text to heart as a warning that access to the Kingdom is not automatic. Instead, it is something for which we must search. Have you ever thought about your relationship with the Kingdom and its King in those terms? Namely, that it is something or someone we must search out by pursuit?

As I began meditating on this text I was surprised how it opened to me one of the most troubling text in the Gospels --
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Notice, the few who find it. Meaning the narrow way must be sought; it must be important enough for us to seek everyday -- remember: "take up the cross daily."  

Perhaps we should ask ourselves... 
  • Just what do we now pursue?
  • What occupies our time? 
  • For what or whom would we literally sell everything we own? 
The King and the Kingdom deeply-desired is what it takes to find the King and the Kingdom! The King as our ultimate desire is what it takes to discover the narrow way!

No doubt the question soon becomes how, how do we seek the King and the Kingdom? How do we seek the narrow way? What would it look like if we desired the King and the Kingdom most of all? This brings us to the second statement.


TO FOLLOW JESUS IS TO SELL-OUT TO HIM & HIS WAYS

Here the text reads: 
"...out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field," and "...he goes and sells all that he has and buys it." (the pearl)
When we really seek the Jesus-way we discover to our surprise that it costs us all we have. This is most difficult for North Americans to hear. To Jesus' hearers this message proclaimed their hope of hopes, for they had nothing. The exception, of course, being the rich, young ruler, who, when challenged by Jesus to sell all and give to the poor and then follow the master, went away sorrowing because he owned many possessions.

It seems there can be no half-hearted allegiances.

Notice that this selling all was also the same understanding of that initial church as well. The first church in the Acts held all possessions in common, selling property and the like to support the community for the moment Jesus returned to set up the Kingdom. 

Or, notice finally the original call of the disciples:
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20 emphasis mine) 

Honestly, I do not know how to sort this out. I am reminded of the G. K. Chesterton quote: 
"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
And I am also reminded of the story of the 1490’s Oxford professor, and the personal physician to King Henry the 7th and 8th, Thomas Linacre.
"He decided to learn Greek. After reading the Gospels in Greek, and comparing it to the Latin Vulgate, he wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.”
In the same way we have allowed the Gospel ultimatum to be so corrupted and diluted that we have no idea how clearly the Jesus-way claims our total allegiance. We have come to believe that a little quick stop on a Sunday is sufficient to somehow fit GOD into our lives. Hear me, this is not so.

And matters are only made worse by the death of Christendom. Those institutional and social structures that have propped-up Christianity for so long are now dying right before our eyes. I tell you the the climate is about to become very inhospitable for the "faith once delivered to the Saints."

To be sure, what is needed now, more than ever before, is a sold-out discipleship where the Jesus-way becomes the only way, but I am not optimistic that his can occur. The culture has captured us, we are prisoners of our own possessions and lifestyle, and time is running out.

Which brings up the final statement:


TO FOLLOW JESUS IS TO LIVE IN LIGHT OF THE END OF THE AGE

The text reads: 
"...thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."
What are we to make of this lively statement? Clearly, Jesus envisions a world made new, where the selfishness that now rules the world, and our hearts, will be purged from existence.

In some ways, I wish for this world now. I wish for the moment when the books are settled and the dream of peace -- where the lion sleeps with the lamb and we study war no more -- comes true to reality. But I’m not sure, after hearing today’s text that I am ready for it.

Search the scriptures and what you find is that when the authors remind us of the Christ's Kingdom which is coming, it is usually coupled with a charge for holy living. "In the light of the end of the age, live thus and so..."

This, too, is a warning of sorts. It warns us that history is going somewhere and that truly, it matters how we live.


_________________________


Matthew 13:44-52


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