All Saints Sydenham
1st July 2007
Year C Week 13
Called to Serve
One of the features of films and television is their ability to show events either in slow- or fast-motion.
This is a powerful way of teaching the truth. So many critical actions, in football for instance, take place within a split second, that the players are quite unaware of why a particular manoeuvre resulted in a goal, or why the referee blew his whistle and awarded a free-kick to the opponents. When recorded and played back in slow motion, however, the particular misjudgement or misdemeanour becomes obvious.
In the same way, replaying quickly a series of photographs taken at intervals of an event which happens too gradually for us to see it happening (like a plant growing in a pot, or a cancer within the human body) enables the viewer to understand in a few seconds what might take weeks if seen ‘as it really happens’.
Let us apply this technique to the four incidents recorded in today’s Gospel reading. They were as follows:
James and John (nicknamed Sons of Thunder by Jesus, remember) felt so outraged that the Samaritan villagers should reject Jesus’s request for hospitality in their village – merely because he was Jewish – that they suggested to Jesus that he should let them burn their village to cinders! However, Jesus, as they say ‘was not amused’!
A potential disciple of Jesus said ‘I’m going to stay with you wherever you go’. Jesus replied ‘have you thought how uncomfortable it’s going to be? We often have to put up with no bed. He may, of course, have been thinking of his recent rejection by the Samaritans and the prospect of sleeping rough that very night.
To another, to whom Jesus had said ‘follow me’ and who replied ‘let me wait till my father has died’, he was equally uncompromising. ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead’, he said; you have all the makings of an evangelist and I need you to start right now!’
To a third who said ‘please allow me time to settle matters with my family’, Jesus replied ‘you’ve committed yourself to following me this far; there’s no going back now’.
To James and John in their mood of supposedly righteous indignation Jesus was saying, ‘Steady on! Don’t you see that taking vengeance on the Samaritans is at odds with everything I’ve been trying to teach you during the past three years?
By contrast, to some of the others he was saying, ‘For God’s sake make up your minds here and now. The Kingdom of God has no room for people who embrace it half-heartedly. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation’. So let’s get a move-on! Follow me!’
James and John needed to look at things in slow-motion, in other words; one, at least of the three who hesitated needed the film speeding-up to enable them to realise the urgency of the role he was inviting them to play.
Let’s look briefly at these four cases in ‘slow motion’, beginning with James & John:
Their response to the inhospitable Samaritans’ was ‘to Hell with them’. This tells us that they had completely misunderstood Jesus’s own attitude towards the Samaritans. Elsewhere in the gospels we have several accounts of how he viewed them. Yes, they were seriously unorthodox; yes, they were equally ill-disposed towards orthodox Jews; yes, they were outcasts. But just remember, it was about a good Samaritan that Jesus told his most famous parable; the only one of the ten lepers who returned to give thanks to God for his healing was a Samaritan; and in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar Jesus made such an impression on the woman and her friends that, St John tells us, ‘they acknowledged him to be the Christ’.
In other words, James and John’s sudden fit of anger succeeded in wiping all these incidents from their minds. They could only respond in terms of ‘exterminate, exterminate!’, and as disciples of Jesus, like everyone else, we must learn that ‘the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God’, ‘be angry and sin not’ and ‘let not the sun go down on your wrath’ were all pieces of advice given by St Paul to his Churches. Indignant we may be, and sometimes should be, but actions based on our indignation usually turn out to be over-reactions for which we later have to say ‘sorry!’. We need to interpose an ‘action-replay’ in slow motion before we allow our indignation free rein. The person with whom we are angry (perhaps justifiably) may be the very person to whom God wishes to advertise us as a model of Christian tolerance and consideration.
Then secondly, what about the man who wanted to become a ready-made disciple instantly? He’d heard Jesus preach, perhaps witnessed one or more of his miracles and decided, on the spot, to become one of his followers.
Well, Jesus was cautious about impulsive followers. He seems sometimes to have gone out of his way to say to them ‘now, have you really thought about what this might cost you?’ Remember the rich young ruler. It wasn’t that he was rejecting such followers, but he knew that the very worst outcome was for someone to commit themselves to him and then reneg on it afterwards. The parable of the Sower is one which addresses this very situation. Of the seed sown, only a proportion will come to fruition. So before anyone commits themselves to baptism or confirmation they need to think what this will mean in practice. What about all the conflicting demands for our time, especially on a Sunday. Are we really prepared to pay the price?
But postponement isn’t always the answer. ‘Let me wait till my father has died’, said the third person. Seen in slow motion this might have been someone who over the course of time had allowed his relationship with his father to over-ride all other considerations in his life. Now, ‘honouring’ and caring for one’s parents is indeed one of the Ten Commandments. But all of us must know people for whom this has become an excessive emotional tie, aided and abetted perhaps by their parents. Desperate not to be accused of being ‘uncaring’ or ‘callous’ they begin to ignore the claims that other people have on them – their own spouse and children, for instance or (not least) God Himself. How many people can honestly say that their parent’s need to have them constantly at their beck and call prevents them from performing their duty to God which can be fulfilled in less than half-an hour per week? Not many!
Finally, there are all those other ‘Not-Yetters’ especially those who are afraid of what others will think of them when they learn that they have become practising Christians? ‘Let me say goodbye’ is all too often an excuse for procrastination, and ‘procrastination is’ [as we all know] ‘the thief of time’. What these people need is a fast-forward operation. To say ‘well I’ll think about it’ may be a sensible response on the first occasion, bearing in mind the second example we considered. But do they ‘think about it’? Not usually. When they go on saying ‘I’ll think about it’ it’s nothing but a long-winded way of saying ‘No!’
I know it doesn’t sound like it, but all-too-often that’s what it amounts to. From time to time it will be our duty to remind the Think-About-Its (and that includes ourselves!) that ‘now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation’.
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