Friday Focus: Tougher Love
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." - Luke 9:51-62
The Jesus of this gospel is obviously not just some kindly, live and let live flower child. When it comes to the love of God and neighbor, he is uncompromising. Shape up or ship out. That’s his challenge to us. Jesus did not go to the cross to populate heaven with coach-potato Christians who’ll get around to God when they find the time and energy. Each one of us is here to make a difference. In us Christ lives in the world. In him we live in the certainty of salvation. Without living in him, without embracing his priorities, we are just so many baptized pagans milling around waiting for the grave.
To illustrate the point, Jesus cites some pretty stark, even harsh, examples… none harsher than let the dead bury the dead. He is telling us that building the kingdom of God is his priority. It must be ours. Whether these lessons are literal or exaggerated for effect is open to debate. But the message is crystal clear. The God of love and mercy is not to be trifled with. He’s not buying our dog-ate-my-homework excuses. He will carry his cross, but we must carry ours. Despite the promise that his burden is light, it is rarely convenient to be a Christian. We don’t set the agenda. Jesus does. We don’t get to pick who to love. Jesus does. We don’t get to pick who to forgive. Jesus does.
And yet the love of Christ is far from an unending series of onerous obligations. In fact Paul tells us to: Rejoice in the Lord always. Squaring that admonition with this week’s gospel can be challenging. God does not want our grumpy, grudging acquiescence. He wants our love. And that is the labor of a lifetime. It takes practice. It takes prayer. It takes perseverance. But what a payoff. Mother Teresa captured the thought when she wrote: I have found a paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
That is the drop-everything, unqualified love Christ describes in this gospel. That’s tougher love than tough love. That is the love of Christ. May we abide in him, forever.