Readings: Jeremiah 18:1–11, Philemon 1:1–25 & Luke 14:25–35
A lot of people in the world today, especially people in Western society, believe they have all the answers. They believe they are completely self-sufficient, and not reliant on anyone else. They believe they, and they alone, are completely in control of everything that happens in their lives. They deny the possible existence of a ‘Supreme Being’ or ‘Creator’, perhaps favouring instead the idea of a random event of creation through the ‘Big Bang’ theory, and they might explain away “unexplainable” events in their lives as mere moments of fate or destiny.
Christians, on the other hand, believe in God the “creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen”. In today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God the Creator is depicted as being a potter, someone who moulds and shapes clay, making it into objects such as jars, cups, plates and bowls. And the nation of Israel is portrayed as being like clay in God’s hands, when God says, “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
God moulds and shapes human beings, and just as the potter will start over if the object he is designing has flaws and needs to be reworked into a new or different shape, so too will God start over to correct the flaws of the people of Israel. They have turned away from God and done what was evil in His sight, and so God tells Jeremiah to warn the people of Judah and Jerusalem that He is devising a plan against them, and that He will turn His back on them. But God knows that the people, much like the people of today, will ignore His warning, that they will follow their own way and act according to their own will.
The same thing happened many hundreds of years later when the Jewish people of Jesus’ day ignored the message of salvation that he announced to them. Those people believed in God, unlike many people in the world today, but they refused to believe that Jesus was the incarnation of God, despite all the signs and miracles that he performed before their very own eyes. Once again, like their ancestors, they followed their own way and acted according to their own will.
A radical transformation was required in the hearts and minds of these people before they could believe Jesus. Jesus himself talks of such a transformation in today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel when he says to the crowds travelling with him, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus isn’t talking literally here about hating one’s family. There was a Jewish expression that if you preferred one thing over another, or one person over another, you were said to “love” the one and “hate” the other. So he is really saying that in order to be his disciple, one had to let go of the attachments to the other things in their lives, whether be they relationships or possessions, and to give priority to following him.
That’s a pretty challenging and daunting message for anyone. How many people would be willing to forsake relationships with partners, children, and family, and all of their other attachments, for a new way of life they are just hearing about? But Jesus tells people that’s what’s required of them if they want to become his disciples. Being his disciples will not be easy. There is a cost to discipleship.
He likens the decision to become his disciple with someone planning on building a tower, or a king going out to wage war against another king. In both of these cases, the builder and king need to be sure they have the resources to get the job done before they proceed. So too with someone wishing to be a disciple of Jesus. They need to be sure they can bear the cost of being his disciples before starting down the road on that path. Jesus says that a disciple who is not prepared to make the necessary sacrifices, is as worthless as “salt that has lost its taste”.
In the Letter to Philemon, which Paul writes to a member of the church at Colossae, regarding a slave named Onesimus, who has run away from his owner Philemon, Paul describes Onesimus as having previously been worthless to Philemon, but that he is now useful to both Paul and Philemon. This is because Onesimus has been with Paul in Paul’s time of imprisonment, and during this time Onesimus has become a faithful follower of Jesus. Paul personally vouches for Onesimus, and goes as far as to guarantee that he will personally repay Philemon for any loss incurred as a result of Onesimus fleeing from Philemon’s service.
It is implied in Paul’s Letter to Philemon that this change in Onesimus, who has become a faithful follower of Jesus, and therefore a potentially useful member of the church at Colossae, is not the result of anything that Paul, or even Onesimus himself has done, rather it is by the initiative or grace of God.
The same is true of people in the world today. The grace of God provides the radical transformation required in people today to open themselves up to the possible existence of something far greater than themselves. As St Paul said in the Letter to the Romans, “The righteousness of God is revealed through the faith of Jesus Christ to all who believe in Jesus”.
Jesus revealed to us, through the example of his own life, how to live a right life. Through faith in Jesus, we accept that we don’t have control over the events of our own lives, and that even though we may not always understand why certain things happen in our lives, we put our trust in God. Having faith in Jesus, means being prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to serve as his disciples.