Ash Wednesday 2016
 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem…. As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:51; 57-62 NIV
“Family life is holy ground”
I am challenged to think that sometimes we followers of Jesus get a bit hung up on the sanctity of family life to the point of almost making it an object of our worship. It is possible to read the gospels with an awareness that Jesus sometimes consider family to be more of a hindrance than a help, which I find quite shocking, if a practical possibility.
I’ve always believe that if Jesus is at the centre of my life, then other relationships will fall into place, and family life will be holy ground, in the sense that it’s the environment in which my faith in Jesus is worked out. So what do we make of Jesus harsh words to the people who expressed a desire to follow Jesus.
A number of years ago the Youth for Christ band, Alphabet, that I worked with, visited Zimbabwe where we were able to sing and speak to people about faith in Jesus.
Shortly before our visit, a well-known evangelist had visited Bulawayo and reported mass conversions to Jesus. When we arrived the local pastors told us that there was very little evidence that these new converts had ever found their way into the local Christian community.
The first time I spoke about my faith in Jesus, I think it was in a Bulawayo factory, at the end I gave people the opportunity to respond by standing if they wanted to know more or to become a follower of Jesus. I was stunned when every single person rose to their feet. This did not indicate a lack of faith on my part…I’m from the UK where people keep their bottoms firmly on their seats rather than drawing attention to themselves unnecessarily!
Afterwards a local black pastor who’d been with us took me on one side. Rather than encouraging me in my effective evangelistic ministry he delivered an encouraging education on local culture.
“You have to understand,” he explained, “that because you are a visitor people want to please you. If you ask people to stand, they will, out of respect for you, and not necessarily in response to the content of what you’ve said. They’re standing for you, and not for Jesus.”
So, from that time on, whenever I had opportunity to speak, I spent at least as much time spelling out the cost of following Jesus as I did talking about why it was a good thing!
As Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” he must have had an inkling of what sort of reception awaited him. His followers, still refreshingly naïve, seemed to have little clue about what was happening. In that context his determination to make people face up to the consequences of following seems less cruel.
This was not a jolly jaunt to Jerusalem…it was a date with a destiny that might well include death.