In Luke’s gospel we join Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem, to spread the good news of the kingdom. His journey took him through the region of Samaria, a place where the inhabitants hated the Jews, and on arriving at a Samaritan village he was refused hospitality, simply because ‘His face was turned towards Jerusalem.’ When the disciples saw the reaction of the Samaritans they were indignant and asked if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the village in question, but Jesus rebuked them, and the group simply went on to another village. In our own faith we may find that we are among people who are ambivalent or downright hostile towards our belief. To meet hostility with hostility is not part of Christ’s way. Anger and resentment have no place in the Christian way of life. In working for the kingdom such negative sentiments are ultimately self defeating, draining energy needed for the positive task of serving God’s purpose.
For those who have made the decision to follow him, Jesus presents no illusions. There can be no rest once you put your hand to the plough and commit yourself to his service. The fox’s hole, its place of safety, and the bird’s nest, hidden away from the gaze of predators, provide a resting place for those animals whose purpose in life rarely extends beyond the raising of young and gathering enough food to live another day. The follower of Jesus, however, has a greater purpose that must occupy heart and mind all the time. We can’t just ‘have a rest’ from being Christian. Neither is the decision to follow Christ one to defer until circumstances change. The man who wanted first to bury his father knew that to follow Jesus was the right thing to do, but could not give his attention to anything but the care of his dying father. This task of caring took all his attention and blocked his view of the larger picture, making him spiritually dormant. But the kingdom of God can be proclaimed in all tasks. George Herbert, in his poem ’Elixir’ points out that if any task, however much it seems like drudgery, is dedicated to Jesus, to the king, then it becomes divine, and the Lord may be praised in simple actions such as the sweeping of a room. The man who wanted to follow Jesus but first wanted to say goodbye to his friends assumed that to follow Jesus must mean relinquishing his earthly friendships. But being a good friend is a large part of what it is to be Christian. The challenge is to follow Christ in the midst of your friends, carrying them with you and inspiring them as you press on in your spiritual journey.
Paul in his letter to the Galatians outlines in more detail what is needed in order to avoid those things that will distract us from our purpose, once we have decided to follow Jesus. He gives a list of those things that will cloud our view of the task we have accepted in following him. Some of these works of the flesh, as he calls them, strike very close to home for all of us. Jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, and so on, betray the weakness of our human nature, and in giving in to these we fail to shine God’s light into the lives of those around us. In contrast by allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit, exhibiting in our daily behaviour the fruits of the Spirit, love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, we bear witness to the faith into which we are called, a witness far more powerful than words. If others see Christians, becoming as Paul puts it, ‘slaves to one another’ through love, they are presented with a way of life that encourages them on their own spiritual journey. Even among non-Christian company we can do nothing to discourage true friendship if we follow these ideals. Our spiritual fruit may even sow seed among them. We cannot, on the other hand, profess the faith to others if as a church we are critical of each other, unwilling to accept each other’s views, lacking in patience and so on.
So let us put our hands to the plough, and not look back, fixing our eyes on the life and example of Jesus in order to plough a furrow in which the seeds of faith produced by the fruits of the Spirit can germinate in those around us, bringing them to a knowledge of Jesus’ saving grace.