By Rev. Ian Arnold
“Then (Jesus) said to another, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father. Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of god.’
And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘no one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'” (Luke Chapter 9, verses 59 to 61)
In an Editorial he wrote in his July of this year Newsletter, Rev. Julian Duckworth, the minister of one of our Churches in Sydney and presently President of The New church in Australia, drew attention to a new law that the Romanian Government has brought in requiring that 50% of all news in their newspapers and other media is good news.
It’s more than likely that we have all listened to – or watched – the news on a certain occasion and, at the end of it, sighed almost with despair at what has been a catalogue of accidents, robberies, assaults, house fires and untoward events.
By comparison we hear relatively little about the wonderfully good and unheralded things that happen; the sacrifices that people make for others or, for example, the fact that teams of doctors from Australia and other First World countries regularly give of their expertise and often their holidays to go to Third World countries to be agents of healing and recovery such as people there could not otherwise hope to have.(Think for a moment of the late Dr Fred Hollows and the work that he started (straight forward operations that restore people’s sight) and which is carried on by the Foundation we know by his name).
It is most unlikely that a day passes when we are not reminded of the forces for evil that have their impact in this world, on our communities, and on the lives of individual people.
But we need to be aware of – and affirm, because it is the truth – that there are forces for good at work in the world also. And these forces for good are just as powerful, just as active and, if we look hard enough, just as much in evidence. When our eyes are open we see people’s hearts touched; lovely gestures; lives changed.
We are not ostriches in the sand denying the reality of forces for evil at work. But here is what is also the reality, that forces for good – just as strong – are also at work, in our midst and affecting each and every one of us. It could not be otherwise; not when we think of freewill and the pull of the various forces, in opposite directions, which we experience and which lie at the heart of our enjoying freewill.
And here, in one of the places in the Writings or Heavenly Doctrines of our Church, this force for good is described:
“There is in fact a sphere continuously radiated by the Lord which raises all to heaven; this fills the whole of both the spiritual and natural worlds. It is like a strong current in the ocean which invisibly draws a ship along.” (True Christian Religion 652:3)
“Like a strong current in the ocean!” Isn’t that amazing? And isn’t it, also reassuring? The Lord is touching the lives of people, for good, continuously.
This sphere manifests in a number of ways.
It manifests, for instance, as a feeling for what is good and just and fair and) honest and decent. In other words, it touches us within; just as it touches and impacts on others. We feel moved in good ways.
It also manifests in the good example of others. We all know of people going out of their way to bring delight, joy and happiness to others. We are impressed by this and, at least to some extent, drawn along by it. Random acts of kindness move and inspire us. People are not obliged or called upon to do certain things but they do them, maybe way beyond what ever could have been anticipated. Here is this force for good, from the Lord, active in human activity. And it is lovely to behold.
Probably most eloquently of all, this sphere, or force for good, manifests in the actual words and sayings of our Lord as we have them set down for us in the Gospels.
- “Forgive” He said, “and you will be forgiven.” (Matthew 6:14)
- Be merciful, and you will obtain mercy.(Matthew 5:7)
- Don’t get drawn into judgement of others. Remember, instead, how great your own shortcomings are.(Matthew 7:1)
- Don’t put your energy into material things.(Matthew 6:19-21)
- Learn to trust and live in the present.(Matthew 6::25-34)
- Aim to be more forgetful of self. (John 15:12,13)
This is this sphere finding its expression in words. It is the Lord drawing us to Himself. And it is summed up in what we have here, in the Lord’s words to would-be followers, “Follow me”.
It is fascinating, isn’t it, that all of these people, who put their hand up to follow Jesus, when it actually came to it, did so with qualifications. ?”I will….but there is something holding me back.”…”I will but something else has priority.”
“Then (Jesus) said to another, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’
And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house. But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'”
When we stop and think about it, what was going on here was that these people couldn’t bring themselves to make a clean break. There was something in them that was causing their resistance.
Now if, as some people do, you read these words, taking them literally, it comes across that the Lord was being harsh and unfeeling. What could possibly be wrong with going back and burying one’s father? What could possibly be wrong with wanting to return home to bid farewell to family there?
Don’t – though – take the Lord literally here. When in another place He said that if your right hand offends you cut it off we don’t take him literally.
And it’s the same thing here.
Remember: this is all about us and how it is that on the one hand we put up our hand to follow the Lord, yet there is this resistance. We say “yes” but with qualification.
And these qualifications are symbolized by what these two would-be disciples or followers of the Lord said.
In summary, wanting to go and bury his father is all about us still feeling the pull and even the attraction of “dead” things. For example, and even if it is in secret, we still feel, and hanker for, the delight in criticizing people because it makes us feel better or superior. We can’t quite give up all that our proprium delights in. We know that all good is from the Lord alone but can’t quite give up wanting recognition or praise and are offended (even if we keep it in check) when it is not forthcoming. And so it goes on.
The other man, you remember, told Jesus that he wanted to go back and bid farewell to those who were at his house; and what this holds up to us is a looking to the past and to earlier, more natural, less regenerate, states.. (Lot’s wife, remember, looked back and became a pillar of salt.) Such looking back can really weaken our resolve and commitment to follow the Lord.
- It can be mistakes and unhappy memories
- It can be things we could have done a lot differently.
- It can be incidents we wish never happened.
- It can be words we said that should never have been spoken.
- It can be old attitudes, perhaps resentments, and ill-founded images of ourselves we are not yet ready to entirely give up.
These are those “foes of our own household” which in another place Jesus warned about and urged that we separate ourselves from. (see Matthew 10:36)
In summary, what this is all about is giving energy and power to those things in us that resist our opening ourselves up more to the Lord’s life of love and wisdom flowing in.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lost it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'” (Mathew 16: 24, 25)
In one place in the Heavenly Doctrines it says, in this regard, that the Lord wills our total submission.(see Arcana Caelestia 6138)
This, though, is not about some kind of slavish caving in. It’s not about unthinking acceptance or blindly following. Not at all.
It simply means commitment without qualification.
Of course there is a place for questioning and a right to examine, explore, think things through and see for ourselves the wisdom of what is asked of us. But what the Lord is highlighting with us here are qualifications, at the heart of which are self and self-interest and selfish delights and gratifications.
With all of us there are these unregenerate and natural delights and fascinations, fears, and mental constructs we look back to, reluctant to give up.
But time and again, as here, the Lord urges us to steadfastly and resolutely turn from these and to go forward to all that He yearns to bless our lives with.
“Do not labour” He said,” for the food that perishes.”(John 6:27). The food that perishes is these old, essentially unregenerate, delights and attitudes and outlooks on life on which we are all too inclined to rely. We draw on them to nourish and sustain us; to nourish the jaundiced skew we have on things; we feed too readily on the assumed shortcomings of others; we find a bizarre strength in the unregenerate fantasies we have about ourselves. “Do not labour for (this) food that perishes”! Rather, the Lord goes on to say, “Labour for the food that endures unto everlasting life.” In other words, feed and grow strong on the life, the love, and the true ways of seeing ourselves, life, others and the world at large, that all comes from our unqualified response to the Lord’s wonderful invitation, coursing down to us through the centuries, “Follow me!”
Then (Jesus) said to another, ‘Follow me’. But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’
And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’