Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”
Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”"
Luke 9:61-62, The Message Paraphrase
Today's image comes to you from my dear friend James, an Indian brother in Christ who spends his life caring for widows and orphans, addressing the physical and spiritual needs of some of the poorest people on earth. I see the heart of Jesus in him.
We were having "virtual chai" the other day (not nearly as good as actual chai) over video chat when he shared a brief story.
He has had extended family living with him for a while, but recently they left, and he had a chance to tidy his house once again. He got everything clean, and all was perfectly peaceful and organized. It was really nice to have a clean house and clean dishes, with perfect control and everything in order. He said he had one of those feelings that you get- wishing that you could have that clean of a house everyday and live in that neatly organized reality. And he was drawn to spend extra time and energy maintaining it.
Earlier he had been reading in Luke 9, where all of these people come up with different excuses of other priorities they have before they can start trusting and following Jesus completely. They state seemingly valid reasons like family cultural customs and daily life obligations. There is this theme of needing to have everything neatly in order before they can get moving with Jesus.
In that moment, James felt Jesus speaking him by saying, "stop wishing for the perfect clean house. That's nice, but that's not life. You need to eat and and make dishes. Life is messy and you'll never have everything in order enough to be ready to follow me and do my work."
What an image for us all. Jesus calls us to come and follow even while dishes remain dirty, clothes remain on the floor, and our lives remain complicated. We can have dozens of excuses for not trusting Jesus and not taking new steps of faith and surrender and love. But Jesus sees those things as they are--excuses-- and calls us to come anyway. In the middle of our heartache, he still wants to give us gifts of joy. In the middle of our deconstruction, he wants to walk with us as we wrestle with hard questions, not remain separate from us. In our struggles, addictions, depression, materialism, unrealistic expectations, guilt-ridden psyches, unmotivated attitudes, easily distracted minds, or constant anxiety.... Jesus calls us to come and follow him first, even before loose ends are tied up. We don't need to make sure that all the dishes in our lives are washed before we can let Jesus into the house.
There's no "But first!" with Jesus. And he brings a strong challenge when we take on that attitude. I don't think it's because he gets angry with us about it. I think it's because Jesus knows that grace can't do its work in us until we throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus and his kingdom, come what may. We can't do the work of the kingdom if deep down we are still subtly playing by the rules and expectations of the world around us. It's a challenging calling, but it's gloriously freeing as well. It makes me uncomfortable and at ease at the exact same time. Such is the paradox of the upside-down kingdom in which we have our citizenship.
Jesus, where is there a "but first" in my spirit today? Help me name it, so I can hear your voice and follow you, right in this moment. Amen.
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