Read Matthew 8:18-22
18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him,he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said,”Teacher,I will follow you wherever you go.”
20 Jesus replied,”Foxes have holes and birds have nests,but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
21 Another disciple said to him,”Lord,first let me go and bury my father.”
22 But Jesus told him,”Follow me,and let the dead bury their own dead.” (NIV)
Whether we are buying a house,a car,an appliance,or even enrolling a child in school,we expect the person offering the product to entice us to buy it. Special deals are offered,obstacles are minimised,the attractions of the product are magnified,there is pressure to sign on the dotted line without worrying too much about what it will all cost.
Jesus flunked elementary marketing. Most of us in Christian ministry love the idea of people coming up to us and asking us if they can be on the team: we are eager for volunteers and we don’t try to make it too hard for them to sign up. Jesus does things differently. In this passage it is almost as if he relishes the idea of knocking people back. And yet this is the same man who invites people to follow him,who wants to send labourers out into the harvest. So does he want us on board or not?
Jesus wants us to follow him but only on his terms. We are not to be dilettantes or dabblers,half heartedly embracing him as a respectable religious hobby. We are not to see him as a useful way of using our time or doing some vague good in the world. Jesus is supreme commander,sovereign ruler,king of kings. This is why he makes radical demands without being a megalomaniac. He has the right to call us to absolute allegiance. Whatever other important things comprise our life,he is the overall priority.
So the religious lawyer fancied himself as a follower but Jesus warned him that to follow him meant forsaking some securities,meant encountering some discomforts. Sacrifices were to be made. Enthusiastic statements of desire need to be tested against this reality. And then the man who wanted to follow Jesus but first had to care for his dying father (this is more likely the meaning than actually having to bury the corpse). This of course was an important and valid priority. Jesus isn’t being harsh here,merely saying that his work was even more important than the most important work that a human being could imagine. (Some speculation: Jesus may have been content to let the man look after his father or do the burial,but only after challenging him about priorities. Jesus wants us to care for our family but to do so as part of our overall allegiance to him).
Jesus wants us to follow him but will employ no high-pressure marketing to achieve it. He wants our allegiance but won’t throw in enticing sweeteners. The only enticement is that we are signing up for lifetime and beyond companionship with the Lord of life who loves us. And that will be incentive enough.