Farmer Evans was driving his John Deere tractor along the road with a trailer load of fertilizer. Tim a little boy of eight was playing in his yard when he saw the farmer and asked, ‘What’ve you got in your trailer?’ ‘Manure,’ Farmer Evans replied. ‘What are you going to do with it?’ asked Tim. ‘Put it on my strawberries,’ answered the farmer. Tim replied, ‘You ought to come and eat with us, we put ice-cream on our strawberries.’
My wife picked strawberries last week at Fernbrook which made me think of that joke. Now that the Farmer’s Market in town is open and Fernbrook shares need picking, farms have become a part of my weekly routine for another summer. Farm imagery was lost on me for much of my life, growing up as I did on sand rather than rich dirt, but I get it now. Jesus used tons of farm imagery, because back then just about everyone could relate to what “putting his hand on the plow” meant.
But Jesus was not always so easy to figure out, and as time passes and cultures change, it can get harder. One exchange we heard tell of today, the young man who just wants to bury his father, often confuses and confounds us, and honestly, it used to make me think Jesus had a bit of a mean streak.
“When Jesus summons a potential disciple, the man makes what appears to be a reasonable request: “Let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus replies, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
“Jesus’ reply would be stark indeed if it were a refusal to allow the son to attend to his recently deceased father’s funeral and burial. But the situation may be quite other than what we assume. In first-century Palestine, it was customary that the eldest son stay home, manage the property of his aging parents, and finally see to their proper burial. If that is the situation implied here, Jesus’ reply is not a command to skip a parent’s funeral. Rather it is a challenge to leave home now—not some thirty years hence—to join in the Master’s mission. Urgent and challenging, yes; cold and unreasonable, no.”1
But that doesn’t mean that Jesus is never a bit demanding. Remember these gems? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Or this: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
Last week we heard Jesus ask us who we say He is, and this week get another shade of that. You have to ask yourself, “What sort of person makes this kind of demand? If I demanded such a commitment, you’d think I was crazy—or at least you should. To make such a demand, Jesus can’t be a mere religious wise man—a mere teacher—sharing a few pearls of wisdom about how best to get along in the world. Not even a holy prophet could say the kinds of things Jesus says here. A prophet says, Follow the ways of God; Jesus says, Follow me—supremely.”2
Yup, so Jesus gets to be a bit demanding because He’s, well, him through whom all things were made. And yet, even in today’s story, Jesus demonstrates and teaches great patience. When Jesus and His followers were treated with contempt and ridicule by the Samaritans (treatment they likely expected), James and John, those Sons of Thunder, try to pull an Elijah and call down fire from heaven to consume those contemptuous Samaritans. Jesus rebukes His own guys, shakes His head and rebukes them, telling them that “the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Other examples of Jesus’ undying patience and compassion can be found in the Comfortable Words we all hear after the Absolution, in Jesus proclaiming Himself the Good Shepherd, in saving the adulteress from that hot-stoned crowd.
It’s not always easy to figure out our God (I was going to say nail Him down, but that seems somehow inappropriate), which, in the end, points to the fact that He is God and we are not. Nor is it always easy to figure out how to serve our God in a world in which conflicts arise and terror is ever-present; in which separation is preferred over unity and trust is hard to come by. But today we learned once again that yes, Jesus demands our all, that we follow Him even to the Cross, but we are also reminded that whenever Jesus demands something of us, He gives us the grace, power, courage, and faith to make it through.
1Dennis Hamm, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/13OrdC062616/theword_hamm.html
2William “Bill” Kynes, Ph.D. Pastor, Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church Annandale, VA http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Becoming_a_Disciple_of_Jesus_SinglePage