Four obstacles in following Jesus
Readings for this Sunday speak clearly about discipleship. The journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem signifies our journey too because we are all on a journey towards the heavenly Jerusalem.
Jesus begins His journey through Samaria. The Samaritans, who had their own temple at Mount Gerizim, did not like Jews who travelled to Jerusalem temple. In order to avoid any conflict, Jews, when they go to Jerusalem, they take another way. But Jesus takes this route to reach Jerusalem. It is not that he doesn’t know anything about Samaritans, but he wants to teach his disciples and every one of us some lessons by identifying some obstacles of discipleship that can prevent someone from having the freedom to follow the Lord.
The first obstacle is anger, as demonstrated by the disciples who want to stop their journey in order to take out revenge on the Samaritan town. They want revenge for the rejection they experience, and they are willing to do terrible things. Interestingly it is not the disciples who hate the Samaritans, but they hate the disciples. Sometimes it can be easy for us to justify our actions based on how others have treated us or what others have done, but Jesus cautions the disciples that anger is really an anchor that will hold them back from following Him. He also wants the disciples to know that His mission is about reconciliation and conversion rather than destruction and punishment. Later if we read the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:14), we find that after Pentecost, the Samaritans received the Gospel, they were converted, and apostles Peter and John went there and prayed for them for the descending of the holy spirit upon them. What a drastic change!
Then, Jesus makes a very significant point when He rebukes the two disciples. The word rebuke (Gk. Petimesen πετίμησεν) is used to address demonic forces and indicates that this is much more than just fraternal correction or clarification of a misguided desire. By using the word rebuke, Jesus is telling us that actions born of anger, vengeance, and retribution are not of God. Without even realising it, the disciples had allowed themselves to be tempted by Satan, and they failed that test. Whenever we are tempted to use violence for a perceived just or righteous purpose, then we have given in to this temptation, and Jesus’ rebuke is meant for us as well.
The second obstacle is personal comfort and prestige. The man wants to follow Jesus wherever he goes. That means he wanted himself to be included among the apostles. Jesus, the one who knows even the inner heart of a person, says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” The foxes and birds are the wicked, cunning and impure powers, the herds of demons. Yes, As long as the foxes and birds have holes and dens in us, how can Christ enter? Where can he rest? This is something important. In any vocation that we choose, whether it is family life or religious life, we should not expect personal comfort. A priest is not made for seeking personal comfort. Similarly, a husband and wife are not meant to seek their own personal comfort in the family. The real joy of family consists in the complete self-donation of each other. Thus, we can fully realise our Christian discipleship by sacrificing one’s life. But to reach that level, first of all, we need to destroy the holes and dens in us and give a place to Jesus to rest in our hearts.
The third obstacle is the priority of the life of faith. While the statement of Jesus regarding the dead burying the dead can appear harsh and insensitive, it is important to notice that nowhere in this passage does it say that the man’s father has actually died. It is quite possible that the man was saying to Jesus, “Let me stick around until all my other responsibilities are fulfilled, and then I’ll think about following you”. Sometimes we can approach our faith just like the man who wanted to wait until his other responsibilities were fulfilled before he followed Jesus. Our Lord cautions us that we can always find excuses to exempt ourselves from discipleship. When we do so, the Gospel will be the last thing in the world for which we give our time, talent, or resources. Sometimes it’s easy to give God what’s left over in our lives rather than making God the priority of our lives. If God is our greatest priority, then all other obligations and responsibilities become secondary.
The fourth obstacle is looking backwards in the Christian life. Jesus says that whoever puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.
Ploughing requires a long-range visual focus in order to be successful. Basically, a farmer can only plough straight lines when he focuses his sight on a distant object in front of him and then maintains the plough in that carefully focused singular direction. If he changes his focus from the distant goal, then he would inevitably fail in his attempt to plough and end up with crooked furrows. To look backwards would be utterly disastrous. When applied to the experience of discipleship, this image takes on deeper meaning because oftentimes, we can find ourselves tempted to look back rather than to look forward to the goal of eternal friendship with the Lord. It is only when we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the One who is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, that we can have the freedom to follow Him and navigate clearly the challenging events of each day. It is also our focus on that eternal goal that will give us the courage, perseverance, and generosity to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel.
So these are the obstacles or, we shall say, the “yokes of the flesh” in the Christian life that impede our freedom to follow Him. Then those yokes of oxen that Elijah smashes and offers in sacrifice can be symbolic of “the yoke of the flesh” that we need to smash in our Christian life. So that we may follow Jesus with all our hearts.
May God bless you!
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