Do you remember playing "Hide & Seek" when you were a child? You would close your eyes and count to a hundred if you were "it" while all the other kids would run and hide. And then when you reached a hundred, you would yell, "Ready or not, here I come!"
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem whether they were ready or not. For thousands of years, the Jewish people had been counting the passing days thinking they were ready for his coming, and then when he came they ran to hide and never really came out to welcome him.
In our text for this time together, he is moving from Galilee to Judea with his face set toward Jerusalem. On the way he enters a village of the Samaritans and they turn him away and never welcome him. Samaritans worshipped God differently from the Jews and these two groups refused to have anything to do with one another. Yet Jesus had consistently been supportive and accepting of them. Remember his parable about the Good Samaritan who stopped to help a man who had been robbed and beaten and left for dead? This fellow stops to help when a Scribe and a Pharisee had passed him by, and do you remember that the woman at the well in John's Gospel was a Samaritan? Jesus gave her living water as he offered her wholeness of life. Now, I feel a little angry that those people who had been so accepted by him, a Jew, were turning him away. How dare they treat him that way!
His disciples were angry too. "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy these people?" Well, now, I'm not that angry. I would never want to destroy somebody, but I do feel disappointed that he had been so kind to them and they could be so cruel to him.
But Jesus just turns and corrects James and John like he will do in the Garden of Gethsemane when Peter cuts off the ear of one of the soldiers there to arrest him. Jesus heals the ear and disciplines Peter. Now they do what Jesus had taught them to do earlier: "Just knock the dust from your feet and let's move on."
Luke continues narrating the journey by telling us about ourselves as well as about folks Jesus encountered along the way. Listen and see if you recognize your own excuses as I do mine for not following him.
One unidentified person steps forth and proclaims, "I'll go anywhere with you!" Jesus lets this person know the consequences of such a promise: Foxes have dens Birds have nests But the Son of Man is homeless...
Oh, could you give me a minute to think about this, Lord? I'm not sure I can leave my home to go with a man who has no place to lay his head. I'm going to go hide, Lord, and you count to a hundred while I decide if I want to be found or if I want to be home free after you're gone.
Jesus moves on, and as he goes he calls someone else along the way to come with him, but the man replies, "Lord, let me wait until I bury my father." I have a footnote in my Bible that explains this. The Jewish people taught that giving someone a proper burial was even more important than helping the poor. Yesterday I received information in the mail about an insurance policy that I could take out to cover my funeral expenses that might be over $6,000 in the near future. We moderns bury our dead in two to three days and at great expense. In Jesus' day there was no funeral as we know it. There was the ritual of lamentations and mourning that accompanied the movement of the body to the tomb but did not end with burial. In general, the mourning lasted seven days. For Moses and Aaron it lasted thirty days and for Jacob seventy days. I was recently in Jordan and the month of mourning was still going on for King Hussein. Jesus knew how long this burial of the father could take, and he knew he did not have enough time left himself for this man to make excuses even if the situation was painful. Jesus isn't being cruel when he responds, "Let the dead take care of the dead while you go and tell about the kingdom of God." He knew this was urgent.
Bonhoeffer says there is a cost to discipleship. The New Interpreter's Bible says that Jesus is warning people of the radical demands of discipleship. I recently spoke to a group of teenagers where a young man summed it up this way: "Being a disciple of Jesus is not for wimps." Discipleship is a call to put God and Christ above care of self, care of the dead, and care for your family.
In that case, Lord, I think I'll hide a little longer and maybe you could count to a thousand before you holler, "Ready or not, here I come!" I'm really not ready yet.
So Jesus moves on and a third person says, "I want to go with you, Lord, but first let me go back and take care of things at home." Jesus must have felt a deep sorrow for these would-be followers and he responds. Listen: "Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn't worth a thing in God's kingdom." I understand this metaphor because I was partially raised on a farm. I know about plows. I learned to plow following a big old horse named Jim. Jim probably weighed a thousand pounds and I weighed a hundred and twenty. If I looked back and took my eyes off Jim, I was in a lot of trouble. You see, a plowshare is slanted in order to dig a straight furrow in the earth for planting. And if you don't hold the plow handles even and guide the horse straight, you can actually be pulled across the plow in an instant and be flat on your face. Also, you can't plow straight if you don't keep your eyes on the rows and the horse. In other words, you're not worth a thing as a farmer if you don't know how to plow, and you're not worth much in God's kingdom if you have excuses for not being able to follow when Jesus calls.
You're like the fellow who said, "I've used up all my sick days so I'm calling in dead." Let the dead bury the dead. If your faith or mine has slowly died, then we are dead disciples excusing ourselves from following a living Christ. You've heard the expression, "We're beating a dead horse," trying to get it up to move on. Jesus knew that the excuses made by these three would-be disciples was the same as beating an already dead horse. Their minds were closed to true discipleship because it really was going to cost them something.
The Civil War General George Steadman was addressing his Confederate troops just before the battle of Second Manassas, also known as Bull Run. General Steadman apparently had a premonition as to how the battle was going to turn out. "Gentlemen," he said, "I want you to fight vigorously and then run for your life. As I am a bit lame, I'm going to begin running now."
Jesus was addressing his followers just before his death, and he knew that the ones who were making excuses about following him into Jerusalem were already running away. But Jesus did not get a head start the way General Steadman did; rather he turned toward Jerusalem knowing the battle would not go in his favor. He did not hide, and his enemies did not have to seek him. He rode into the city. Ready or not, here he comes.
The miracle for all of us is that he still comes to us. He accepts us just as we are and calls us forth to be all that God would have us be. Our responsibility is to stop making excuses, to stop running away to hide and to become followers. Who knows--Jesus might tag you and say, "You're it. Now seek those who are hiding from me and bring them safely home." This is not a game of hide-and-seek we're playing. It isn't a test to see who wins or loses. This is a call to come and follow me...this is the way to abundant life.
Composer Giacomo Puccini wrote a number of famous operas. In 1922 he was suddenly stricken by cancer while working on his last opera, "Turandot," which many now consider his best. Puccini said to his students, "If I don't finish 'Turandot,' I want you to finish it for me." Shortly afterwards he died. Puccini's students studied opera carefully and soon completed it. In 1926 the world premiere of "Turandot" was performed in Milan with Puccini's favorite student, Arturo Toscanini, directing. Everything went beautifully until the opera reached the point where Puccini had been forced to put down his pen. Tears ran down Toscanini's face. He stopped the music, put down his baton, turned to the audience and cried out, "Thus far the Master wrote, but he died." A vast silence filled the opera house. Toscanini picked up the baton again, smiled through his tears and exclaimed, "But his disciples finished his work." When "Turandot" ended, the audience broke into thunderous applause. No one at the premiere performance ever forgot that moment.
Jesus died before he could finish his portrait of God. If we are truly his disciples, we will stop making excuses and finish what he came to do. We will live so like the Master that others will see him in us, and we will remind them that when you see Jesus, you have seen God!
Let us pray. Gracious God, so many of us are playing games. It's fun to play "Hide & Seek" especially if no one finds you. It's fun when the counting has ended and you can run and touch home base and cry, "Home free!" But none of us is really home free until we stop playing games and become true disciples, until we realize in our heart that they weren't ready then for his coming and we're perhaps not ready now. When he comes again to live in us and when he encourages us to finish painting the masterpiece--that revelation of your presence among us--that helpful moment when we can paint the colors of God's beautiful world in such a way that others will behold and understand that God goes on painting and goes on creating and goes on making our lives beautiful and meaningful. We know that the music that can come from great composers thrills us with the sense of the rhythm of life, but we also know that when we truly see the One who came to show us you, to reveal you to us as you are--not as we want you to be--then we can become those persons who stop hiding and we can seek for the true meaning of life in the way we live as disciples. Help us to be faithful. Amen.