We are now in the green growing season, sometimes called ordinary time and sometimes called the season after Pentecost.
Unlike the other seasons, this one doesn’t focus on a particular mystery of God. Instead, I feel, it focuses on us. We’ve spent about six months thinking about Jesus and now we spend some time thinking about what it all means for us. So, after months of preparation we are ready for something new. We will look at Jesus’ journey and teaching with the disciples. We will go over those literary gold nuggets called parables. And we will see how the apostles dealt with life on the road.
It’s time for us to get on the road ourselves. It reminds me of the many expeditions I took in the scouts. We would spend months talking through the river route. Every week we would learn about starting a fire when it’s wet or different strokes with the paddle or even how to flip over a capsized canoe while still in the water.
The anticipation builds and builds until finally the day comes; the morning when you dip the tip of your canoe into the current. All of your careful preparation is consummated as you take the first few pulls of the oar.
Finally, we’re on the water.
This section of Luke marks a clear shift. The Apostles had been studying at the foot of the master for a while now. He had been teaching them the new way of the kingdom of God through parables and by reflecting on his encounters with the marginalized. Sensitivity training has been completed. Peter, James, and John have just finished their leadership retreat to Mt. Transfiguration.
The opening verses tell us the time has arrived.
Jesus has poured all of the passion and wisdom he could into this elite squad of missionaries.
It’s time to start unfurling the loving, lifegiving, liberating kingdom of God onto all of God’s people.
And a few verses after it began, James and John, top of their class, encounter the first bump in the road. Their solution, call fire down upon the unresponsive Samaritans.
I imagine Jesus and Peter being canoe partners. Jesus is at the front, so happy to finally be on the water. He turns to Peter, “Can you believe we finally made it on to the riv….”
Peter interrupts, “Jesus, looks like James and John hit a rock.”
A rock? We just got into the water.
Yeah, they made it like three feet and just completely capsized.
Did they use the “J” stroke? Are they using the canoe flipping technique I taught them?
No, they just look really mad. Now it looks like they’re trying to start their canoe on fire.
So, Jesus turns around the canoe, paddles upstream and helps his disciples.
As Jesus pulls alongside James and John.
He sees exactly why they sank.
“Your canoe was too heavy.”
“Yes, too heavy, you brought a king-sized mattress.”
“Well, yeah, what did you want us to do, sleep on the ground? There’s bugs there!”
Jesus responds, “being with me means not having the material protection you’re used to.”
So, they get rid of the mattress.
The apostles now see that it was silly to have brought such a thing and are ready to continue down the river.
Jesus says, “still looks a little heavy.”
What else would you have us leave behind?
Jesus gestured to a giant set of journals marked, “Zebedee’s camping guide.”
The Apostles said, “but these are our dad’s journals. They’ve got everything in there: old family recipes, the will to the estate, and Dad’s thoughts on Samaritans,”
Jesus responds “Traveling with me means leaving behind your past, your ancestors, your roots and your traditions. It means trusting me and my father to take care of you.”
It was much harder than the mattress, but the apostles left their father’s journals behind has well.
Their canoe was almost bare.
But before they could push off from the bank, Jesus said,
“It still looks a little heavy.”
He pointed to a post card.
The apostles said, “oh Jesus, that’s for everyone back in Nazareth. We just want to keep up with them. We’ve known them forever, and they know us better than anyone. They’re our people!”
Jesus said, “you need to leave behind all distractions. You need to leave behind nostalgia, social groups, the very idea of “where you came from”, if you want to follow me.”
Even though it was the lightest of the cargo, it was hardest to leave behind.
Once the mattress, the set of journals and the postcard were on the bank, they push off and make their way down the river; their boat gliding over the glistening waters.
The call to follow Jesus is an expensive one.
And it’s not as clear as right and wrong.
It’s easy for us to say, “in order to follow Jesus, you need to leave behind, drugs, brothels, and voodoo séances.
But here Jesus isn’t saying choose me over the worst of life, he is demanding that we prioritize him over the best of life.
He is demanding the we prioritize him over the best of human relationships, not the worst.
It’s easy to choose Jesus over the devil, but Jesus asks us to choose him over family.
But while it may be hard to give it up, we will find it a better way to travel.
Who owns who if we prioritize our possessions over Jesus?
What kind of family love do we speak of if it is one originating and grounded in obligation rather than freely given and freely received?
And how can we have a good relationship with our past if we allow it to define us. Rather, our future in Christ, as a childen of God, is the only definition we should seek.
A good growing season will require pruning. It will ask us to make difficult choices and set challenging boundaries between us and what we now value more than anything.
But it is only through lightening our canoe that we can make the journey.
And it is only through difficult pruning that we can grow into who we are called to be.