Homily: Large Crowds Traveled With Him
Today’s Gospel reading starts out: “Now large crowds were traveling with him and he turned and said to them….”
Jesus, of course, was bound to draw a crowd. People had heard about him, and some of them had even witnessed his miracles. He healed many people and even brought several back from the dead. He forgave people their sins – and he got into big trouble with the powers that be, standing right up to them and speaking the truth about the way they distorted God’s will for humankind. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus claimed that his mission was to bring good news for the poor, to proclaim release for the captives, and to let the oppressed go free…and we know there were plenty of poor people, plenty of captives, plenty of the oppressed, around in those days, weren’t there?
And so large crowds followed him. What do you think they were looking for? There must have been quite a mix of motives, I suspect. Some people must have been drawn to a teacher who would stand up to those high and mighty religious leaders who put heavy burdens on the people, separated some folks out as unclean – isolating them not just religiously but in every other way – leaders who argued fine points of the law but missed its heart: to love God with one’s whole being and one’s neighbor as oneself.
There must have been some folks who were thrilled to see this kind of confrontation, and hoped for more. There must have been people who were oppressed, captive, and poor, who longed for Jesus to touch them and heal them, or to say the words they needed to hear – “Go, your sins are forgiven.” Maybe some people just wanted to see a miracle or two – the way we watch movies for those amazing special effects. And undoubtedly there were at least a few pickpockets, skeptics, and spies from the empire in the mix.
But don’t you think that there were at least some people who wanted more, who wanted their lives to be completely transformed, people who wanted to follow Jesus not just for a little while, but to become his disciples, his followers, all of their lives?
Sometimes, Jesus would look at the crowd and feel compassion for them, because he knew they were hungry. We remember these stories, when Jesus fed the masses with a few loaves and fishes, or another time, when Jesus saw the crowds, sat down like a traditional Jewish teacher, and told the crowds that the poor, the meek and the sorrowing are blessed in the eyes of God.
Today’s scriptures remind us of who and whose we are: we belong to God, and that affects the way we belong to one another. It also affects the way things “belong” to us. If we belong to the God who has known us since the first moment of our existence, the God who holds our lives and knows their length and their inexpressible value, the God who searches out our path and our lying down and is acquainted with all our ways, the God who hems us in, behind and before, and lays God’s own hand upon us…well, then, how can we not expect to relate differently to everyone and everything in our lives? How can we ever think that we can “possess” anyone or anything? Rather, we acknowledge that everyone and everything belongs to God – the earth and all that is within it., leaving no room for idolatry, gathering up wealth, relying on military might.
A few people may sense that Jesus is on his way to die, and even if they can’t – or won’t– go all the way to the cross with him; little do they realize that the path leads only by way of the cross to God’s final word of love’s triumph over death. And little do they realize that, ultimately, the path leads to joy, difficult as it may be on the way.
Perhaps we can read Jesus’ words, then, as a warning against enthusiasm without commitment. He uses practical illustrations – a king preparing for war, a person about to build a watchtower – in order to urge those who are following him to consider whether we are willing to pay what has been called “the ultimate cost of discipleship.”
Have we only come to pay our respects to a funeral procession? Are we stirred by a parade, only to fall back into our lives, as they were? Or are we going to join Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to those showdowns, when life will win over death, when love will triumph over hate, when joy will have the last word? Are we ready and willing for our lives to be transformed?
My friends, God is still speaking to us this very day, cautioning us against easy discipleship, easy enthusiasm, and our cluelessness about the cost of following Jesus here, in our world today. There are still plenty of us who are poor, plenty of us who are captive to so many things, plenty of people who are oppressed. The showdowns are still happening, or needing to happen, and the cost may be high.
Religious authorities still separate out some people as unclean, as unacceptable, and separate them from the life of the community, even though we know that all of us belong to God and therefore, every single one of us has a place at the table God sets.
Those with much to lose may stall our every effort to share more graciously, more justly, the goods that God has abundantly provided to us all. Our passionate proclamation of God’s love and hospitality, of the reality of grace in our lives, may bring down a firestorm ofopposition.
Excuses will be offered, delays will be attempted, and arguments will be made to keep us from doing what needs to be done. But, as people of God, we will not be deterred. By the power of God at work within us, we will pay the cost, whatever it takes. We are on our way to joy.
God’s great vision, God’s great promise of shalom, the fullness of peace that includes healing, wholeness, and justice for all, is our dream, too. In Jesus Christ, God has spoken a word of truth that will not be denied, a word of forgiveness that will heal us, a word of love that will not die, a word of grace that will transform and renew every corner of creation, including every single child of God.
We have this good news, this treasure, in earthen vessels, in our own hearts…shall we go forth, then, into this hurting world, and share it with all of God’s children, no matter What the cost?