If you ever needed convincing that the love of Christ is not just syrupy sentiment, this gospel gives all the proof you need. Christ, on his long journey to the cross, is demanding of himself and demanding of us. Following him, being a Christian, is not just something that we fit into our schedule. It must be our schedule. Loving him is not an aspect of our busy life. It must be our life. That doesn’t mean living in a cave and praying all day. It does mean that every day, we give our work, our leisure, our pain, our joy to Jesus. And in return, he gives our lives a purpose. And without that purpose, we’re just killing time and taking up space.
The Jesus of this gospel is obviously not just some kindly, live and let live flower child. When it comes to the love of God and neighbor, he is uncompromising. Shape up or ship out. That’s his challenge to us. Jesus did not go to the cross to populate heaven with coach-potato Christians who’ll get around to God when they find the time and energy. Each one of us is here to make a difference. In us Christ lives in the world. In him we live in the certainty of salvation. Without living in him, without embracing his priorities, we are just so many baptized pagans milling around waiting for the grave.
To illustrate the point, Jesus cites some pretty stark, even harsh, examples… none harsher than let the dead bury the dead. He is telling us that building the kingdom of God is his priority. It must be ours. Whether these lessons are literal or exaggerated for effect is open to debate. But the message is crystal clear. The God of love and mercy is not to be trifled with. He’s not buying our dog-ate-my-homework excuses. He will carry his cross, but we must carry ours. Despite the promise that his burden is light, it is rarely convenient to be a Christian. We don’t set the agenda. Jesus does. We don’t get to pick who to love. Jesus does. We don’t get to pick who to forgive. Jesus does.
And yet the love of Christ is far from an unending series of onerous obligations. In fact Paul tells us to: Rejoice in the Lord always. Squaring that admonition with this week’s gospel can be challenging. God does not want our grumpy, grudging acquiescence. He wants our love. And that is the labor of a lifetime. It takes practice. It takes prayer. It takes perseverance. But what a payoff. Mother Teresa captured the thought when she wrote: “I have found a paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
That is the drop-everything, unqualified love Christ describes in this gospel. That’s tougher love than tough love. That is the love of Christ. May we abide in him, forever.
Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.