YOU CAN NOT BUY A RELIGION LIKE YOU BUY A CAR
2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14, Psalm 146, Luke 9:51-62
June 28, 1998 by Tad Mitsui
The famous New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra once said, "If you don”t know where you”re going, you”ll never get there." The best way to walk straight is to keep looking at a distant object and stride towards it. If you look at only a few feet away or keep looking backwards to check if you have walked straight, you probably will take a longer curved route or may even end up going around a circle. I heard a story about a man, who decided to have a long walk at night during a blinding blizzard in the Northern wilderness. He never came back. His frozen body was found only a few feet away from the camp. It was clear from his foot marks that he just went around a circle all night. I don”t think that was his intention. I am sure he was desperately trying to find the base camp.
Today”s Gospel begins with a sentence, "Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." Why did Jesus decide to leave Galilee where he was so successful in his ministry? Thousands of people were following him everywhere he went. Yet, why was he determined to go to Jerusalem where there were many hostile people. This story teaches us something about the importance of setting a goal and of commitment to it, no matter how much it costs. In the place of the expression "He set his face..", some interpreters of the Bible used expressions like "he stiffened his face towards.." or "he fixed his face resolutely towards.." They are all saying that Jesus was determined to stride towards a destination which required sacrifices. The point of this passage is that faith is a commitment. It is not like going for shopping. There can not be detour or turning back. It is more like having a family. Once you have a family, you have no choice of who your parents are, who your children are. Family is not a matter of choosing what you like or dislike. Family is a matter of faithfulness and of love. You can not change your mind and ask for refund for your parent or for your child. Likewise, faith is a matter of commitment.
Furthermore, commitment means setting priorities for the sake of a goal. Therefore, it means giving up some things in order to go forward towards the direction you have committed yourself. Here Luke recorded three examples of what you should give up.
First of all, Jesus pointed out to us that a faithful person is a traveller who is always on a move to reach a destination. A traveller always has to leave things behind. On the way to Jerusalem, people in Samaria wished Jesus and his company would stay with them, because they liked what they heard of him. Therefore, they were not happy to hear that Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem. So Jesus said, "Sorry." and moved on to the next village. That sounds not very nice on the part of Jesus. But we must realize that in the pursuit of our goal, we have to say "Good-bye" sometimes. Parents must know that, when their children grow up and leave home. Teachers must know that, too.
When someone you love dies, you have to say an ultimate "Good-bye" and leave the dead behind. When one of his followers asked him to wait for him because he had to bury his father, Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead." It sounds terrible. But it shows that Jesus trusted God and that his priority was with the living. Jesus was saying, "Your beloved one is already with God. What better place can there be for him? Leave the dead to God, and let us attend to the living. There are still many people who need to know the love of God." Jesus teaches us an art of letting go of the things that are beyond our control, in order to keep on moving towards the goals in the world of the living.
Lastly, Jesus warned us of the danger of looking back. He said, "Once you have started to plough, you can not keep looking back to attend the things you left behind or forgot." If you keep looking backwards, you will never get your job done. Remembering the past is sweet. But the past can not be a shackle that stops you to move forward. The past has to be the foundation on which you build a future. The past has to teach you lessons, and should not be a distraction.
Religion is a commitment. It involves the whole life, totally. And there is no turning back. It is not a shopping trip to pick and choose what you like, and ask for refund afterwards when you change your mind. You can not buy a religion like you buy a car. Religion is not like the flavour of the week. It is a commitment. We are Christians, and are committed to follow the way of God through the teaching and the example set by Jesus Christ. Let us move forward and let the past look after itself.