Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wow, Jesus is in a rotten mood today, isn’t he?! He doesn’t have anything nice to say. I think maybe Jesus is trying to tell us something. Maybe we need to hear about the journey to Jerusalem—now in the summer, way before Lent—so we can stand in the road with Jesus and see the beginning of his journey to the cross.
One of my favorite books is Alice in Wonderland. I loved it as a child for the weird characters and the funny adventures, but I have kept rereading it as an adult for the wonderful insights hidden within the story. “One day, Alice came to a fork in the road, and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’”
Jesus knows where he wants to go. He is headed to Jerusalem, not for a festival—although there will be one happening when he gets there. Not to gather with friends and relatives for a Passover supper—although he will participate in that meal while he is there. Not to teach and preach about the kingdom of God—even though he will preach and teach in Jerusalem. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem to die. Actually, not just to die, but to be tortured and humiliated and killed on a cross. This is serious business, and there is no way for us to avoid the road Jesus travels, if we are to be true disciples. So, I guess it’s understandable that Jesus is a little uptight with his would-be followers. He has no patience for their excuses today. Jesus knows where he is going, and he knows what it will take to get there.
Sometimes, when I want to hear a reading in a different way, I like to read several translations to see if that helps me get a better idea of what is going on in the passage. This time, I read The Message translation. Here is The Message translation of Jesus’s conversations on the road: "‘I’ll go with you, wherever,’ he said. Jesus was curt: ‘Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.’ Jesus said to another, ‘Follow me.’ He said, ‘Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.’ Jesus refused. ‘First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!’ Then another said, ‘I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.’ Jesus said, ‘No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.’
I like that last line: “You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” If we truly want to be disciples, if we truly want to follow the Risen LORD, the One who saved us from death and destruction, we have to hear these words and decide if we know where we want to go and not hesitate. Just as the Cheshire cat tells Alice, “It’s only if you know where you want to go, that the road you choose matters.”
If we want to have new life in Jesus, the road we choose makes all the difference. We can’t be distracted. We can’t turn aside for anything. This is not a comfortable message, is it? We would much rather focus on Jesus’s miracles and healings than this call to action. So where is the “Good News” in this reading? The good news is there if we look for it. Jesus was walking WITH the disciples! Jesus walked with the disciples. That’s the good news! The word of hope that we hear today is that Jesus has gone before us down that hard road, and Jesus walks with us through our lives, as well.
Jesus walks with us, through all of life’s difficulties. To places that will frighten us. To places where we will suffer. To places where we will die. Jesus also walks with us as we live the discipleship life of intentionally living as followers of Jesus. That means we have to share God’s love and Jesus’s words of healing. Not procrastinating because we are afraid to offend, or because we don’t like to talk about hard things. We are called to step up and be God’s messengers—calling for love to be at the center of everything we do, and everything we are. We are not along. God is with us through Jesus. Amen.