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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Third Sunday After Pentecost

Proper 7C
Luke 9:18-24

Good morning, and Happy Father’s Day! This is the day here in the U. S. that is set aside to honor fathers: those men who (1) help to give us life, and then (2) try to guide us in learning how to live it. Certainly an enormous task, and one well worth recognition.

Now, at the risk of stating the obvious, not everyone is or will be a biological father. As a woman, that of course is the case for me-- and there are also many men who, for many reasons, are not fathers. For us, then, our awareness of the nature of fatherhood comes from what you might call secondary experience, of varying depths. In my case, that means through my own father, and my husband; my brother, and several brothers-in-law; uncles and cousins; dear friends and casual acquaintances.

From this perspective, it seems to me an indisputable truth that the second part of being a father-- the guiding, and the example that one sets-- carries the far greater significance. A man’s virtues, and his faults, are nowhere so obvious, or carry so much influence, as in his relationship with his children.

In light of this, I think today’s Gospel is especially appropriate to the day. This is one of those times where Jesus and his disciples are conversing privately. They are neither in front of a crowd, on public display; nor answering to local religious and political authorities. It’s a quiet, almost intimate moment, a time for a bit of personal conversation, reflection and prayer. You get the feeling that Jesus is letting his guard down a bit, as he asks his followers for some honest feedback.

“Who do people say that I am?” What kind of impression am I leaving, with those whose lives I touch?

“Who do you say that I am?” Is it different with you who know me best, with whom I spend most of my time, and effort, and energy? Is it coming through, the core of who I am, and what I have to share?

These are questions that people often ask themselves-- or maybe should, whether we are parents or not.

Luke does not record Jesus as responding specifically to any of their answers; he neither confirms nor denies what they say. Instead, he instructs them not to tell anyone what they had said. This sounds odd, at first, doesn’t it? I’ve been joining the Bible study at St. Peter’s on Tuesdays, and we talked about this for quite a while, discussing reasons Jesus might have said this.

One idea we considered, for example, was that this was some sort of reverse psychology thing. This is a tactic of which most parents are well aware, even though it often backfires on us. Telling a child he or she can’t have something, for whatever laudable, legitimate reason-- the unsafe toy, the snack before dinner, the friend who’s a bad influence-- is almost a surefire way to make that thing almost unbearably attractive, and desired above anything else.

This applies to children of all ages, doesn't it? It has ever since the beginning of time. Remember the story of Adam and Eve? God gave them paradise, and forbade them only one thing. And then it hardly took any temptation at all-- one little conversation with a smooth-talking serpent-- and suddenly there they were, having a picnic with the only fruit that their heavenly father had told them to stay away from.

And it’s still true, even with little things. I never wanted a piece of chocolate, or a Dr. Pepper, so badly as when I was told I needed to eliminate caffeine from my diet.

So, was that what Jesus was doing? Playing on the all-too-human trait of wanting most whatever is forbidden? Calling them to witness to the Messiah, by telling them not to?

Somehow, I don’t think so. It seems to me that generally, when Jesus gives a direct instructions, he’s expecting his hearers to follow them. Now, it’s true that his teaching is not always as clear as we’d like; sometimes, as with parables, the multiple meanings that can be found in Jesus’ words can be confusing. But he’s not ever portrayed as sneaky, or as a man who says one thing and means another. So I think we can take his words here at face value.

But why, then, tell the disciples not to talk about their conversation? I think the clue comes from the directions that follow. “If any would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

If Jesus had been primarily concerned with who he was, and the power of that role, then he would have been teaching us a very different lesson; and we would have a very different image of God, and our Savior. Instead, everything that Jesus says, and does, is focused not on his personal achievements and abilities, but on God, and God’s will-- not only for him, but for all of us. He does not deny who he is; but he is not focused on it.

Jesus does want to be followed. But his focus, his concern, his overriding mission, is bringing people to the fullness of God-- not only to him as Messiah, and the expectations that people would have of him if he proclaimed himself as such, but the God that undergirds all that we see in his life, and death, and resurrection.

He does want us to come after him-- to live a life oriented upon God, and not to the self-centered concerns that the world around us encourages. To know ourselves as loved beyond all imagination... and to then turn and love beyond our limitations because, with the gift of the Spirit, we can be more than what the world may name us.

This, then, is the challenge of fatherhood. In a very concrete, practical way, fathers-- as well as mothers, and children, all of us-- are summoned, and challenged, in Jesus’ word and example, to lives of discipleship.

Deny oneself. Sacrificing personal ease for the care of those we love. To change the diaper, and walk the floor, when you’d rather be sleeping. To help with homework when you’d rather watch the ball game. To strive for patience, and a just response, when you’d rather retaliate in anger.

Take up your cross daily. To keep at it, even when it’s hard. To hold to principles, when it would be easier to go along. To acknowledge imperfection, and error, and sin, and ask forgiveness from those we inevitably wrong. Over, and over, and over again.

Follow me. And finally, to acknowledge in all things that there is authority above you-- above us all. The ultimate authority, and power, and love, of the One that Jesus called “Abba.” Daddy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What caught my eye was the "reverse psychology" thing. You can't have it, so you want it more. I know the feeling. Right now.

July 02, 2004 8:40 PM  

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