When Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’
Jesus’ words in today’s reading are often described as confusing or unclear. However, I would disagree with that … today’s reading is very clear, it is about our response to Christ’s call to discipleship and apostleship. It is about the clarity of Christ’s call and the lengths we go to in order that we might avoid that call.
In the first sentence of today’s reading there is an unfamiliar statement. Jesus: gave orders to go over to the other side. We do not usually think of Jesus as one who gives orders. We sanitize Jesus into someone who is loving, serving and self-sacrificial. Of course, that is all true, but that is to tell only part of the story. Jesus is also the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, who came to earth to bring about reconciliation, healing and a new covenant between God and humanity. Those aims could not be achieved without upsetting those who brought about the need for such a mission.
Jesus calls each and every one of us to love and serve in his name. He calls us to be his disciples, his followers. He also commissions us to be his apostles, his messengers. Such a call demands that we join him in living a life of unconditional love, willing service and self-sacrifice. Such a way of living flies in the face of our human instinct for survival and dominance. We like to be the ones who give the orders; we do not take kindly to having our lives organized for us by others. As we see in Matthew 8.23-27, obeying Jesus’ order to go to the other side, that is the other side of the Sea of Galilee, can be perilous. The perils of that large inland sea can only be met if we trust the one who gave the order, Jesus himself.
It is clear that many were moved to offer themselves in response to Jesus’ teaching and call, but Jesus knew their hearts, just as he knows ours. Our excuses for evading Jesus’ call in our lives may be different from those in today’s reading, but they are still just that, excuses. Let it be our prayer that as we discern Jesus’ call in our lives we might set aside the things of this world and set our eyes on obeying his order to make that journey, perilous or not, to the other side … the side that will bring us into the nearer presence of God.