Wednesday, September 03, 2014

They Left Everything

Brothers and sisters: Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.  1 Corinthians 3:18

For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon.  Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.  Luke 5:9-11

Matthew was mindful of taking the tax
And pressing the people to pay
Hearing the call, he responded in faith
And followed the light and the way

And leaving the people so puzzled he found
The greed in his heart was no longer around and
And it's hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind

Every heart needs to be set free
From possessions that hold it so tight
'Cause freedom's not found in the things that we own
It's the power to do what is right

With Jesus, our only possession
And giving becomes our delight
And we can't imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind
(From Michael Card, The Things We Leave Behind)

What gets repeated, gets emphasized. 

The Synoptic Gospels all contain the scene of Jesus calling the fisherman.  While repeated, today in Luke’s account, we can put our finger on one critical difference.  When Mark and Matthew tell this episode, the fishermen who follow Jesus leave their nets and their father.  In Luke’s retelling of this story, they leave everything, an indication of Luke’s theme of complete detachment from material possessions.  This is a theme to which Luke returns time and time again.

When Jesus called Levi, the tax collector, he too, left everything behind.  “After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’  And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28)

In commissioning the disciples to go out into the world and preach, Jesus instructed them to sell everything.  Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. (Luke 12:33)

As Jesus recounts the mark of a true disciple, detachments comes up again. “In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.(Luke 14:33)

Finally, during the encounter with the rich young man who wants to inherit eternal life, the answer Jesus gives again is complete detachment.  When Jesus heard this he said to him, “There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

Talk about turning the tables.  Society tells us (falsely) that he who dies with the most toys wins. Everywhere we turn, the signs and ads are calling us to buy, Buy, BUY!  As kids, we were conditioned to collect baseball cards. Then we start stockpiling a wardrobe of work clothes, dress clothes, play clothes and clothes for whatever hobby you have – golf shoes, basketball shoes, biking shoes, baseball cleats, etc. We do exactly the opposite of what Luke indicates is required of us.  

In the opening page of the book “How Much is Enough,” Arthur Simon recounts a story about how we – aided and abetted by our own pastors and ministers – get around the hard answers.  We know the questions are out there. We know the answers, yet we avoid them.
A Christian from Germany visited the United States shortly after World War II.  “I noticed your churches have cushions,” he commented, suggesting churches of affluence.  The he added, “I notice your preaching has cushions, too.” 

The visitor had obviously gotten a sample of the feel-good sermons sprinkled with the joke-of-the-week, that deals slightly and lightly on messages like total detachment from material possessions we encounter above from Luke’s Gospel. There are no cushions on these pages and passages. 

The way forward may not be to go cold turkey like we are planning to enter a monastery and leaving everything behind.  Although, that was certainly the example set by St. Francis.  When we are lowered into that final pine box, there will not be room for much else in that space.

Start someplace…a room, a closet, a basement.  Target one category:  furniture or clothes or books or music or tools.  What can you part with?  Donate those items to A Wider Circle ( or another organization that will re-cycle useable items to families in need.

What is an anchor holding you back from following Jesus?  If your hands are already full of stuff, how in the world will you pick up your cross daily and follow him?

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