Jesus covered quite a lot of ground by foot. In fact it seems that wherever he was going he was walking. As he was walking he used that time to teach and instruct his disciples and the rest of the crowd that followed them.
The verses that preceded our gospel lesson were about Jesus asking the disciples who people were saying that he was. They gave various answers to his question. Then he asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gets the answer right when he says, “You are the Christ.”
Yet in the very next paragraph Peter gets it wrong. Jesus confronted Peter, told him to get out of his way, called him satan, told him to get lost, and basically told him he didn’t have a clue about how God works. He was on top one minute and lower than the dirt on his sandals the next. Yet Peter is who he is going to ask to lead his church.
Jesus saw this as a good teaching opportunity. He called the crowd that was following them to come close enough to hear what he had to tell them.
He said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels."
Jesus had just told them the Son of Man would have to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law. He would be killed and after three days would rise again.
The leader they were following had just said that he was going to die. So if they followed him and let him lead then they would most likely suffer the same fate. It wasn’t about them any more it was about Jesus. He was asking them to give up all the things in their lives that the world thought was necessary to their survival. They weren’t to depend on themselves any longer. He was asking them to make hard personal sacrifices for the good of their souls.
What is the Message for us today? What do you think it means when Jesus asks us to follow him and let him lead? What does it mean to us to not run from suffering, but to embrace it? It sounds as if whoever chooses to follow Jesus will have to put a lot of trust in the One they have never seen. Whoever makes the decision to follow Jesus will have to put a lot of faith in the Word.
These are tough questions for all of us in these times in which we live. Give up worrying about our 401k’s, our pensions, our CD’s, and our savings accounts that keep getting smaller everyday. Jesus lays it all out on the line when he asks, “What could you ever trade your soul for?”
What is your soul worth? Is it worth spending all our time trying to figure out how we can build more monetary wealth in our retirement accounts?
Everything Jesus is teaching in this gospel reading requires trust and faith in the One who spoke these words over 2,000 years ago. The lesson from Genesis and Romans was about the faith that Abraham had in the covenant God made with him to make him the Father of a great nation. Abraham had faith even though he was well past the prime years for fathering children. Yet he believed that if God said it, it would be as he said. That’s a whole lot of faith. And he waited another year before God kept his part of the covenant and they were blessed with Isaac.
Jesus is calling us today to be his disciples and to use the gifts he has given us to go out into the world and make more disciples of all nations. Do we have the faith and trust necessary to be disciples for Jesus?
What is it that scares us the most about being a disciple for Jesus? Will we have to leave our comfortable homes? Will we have to travel to far off lands teach people who are way different from the people in Iowa and Nebraska about Jesus and the Way? What scares us, what keeps us from making the commitment to be Jesus’ disciples?
What would it mean to spend our lives living with Jesus? What did it mean for Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, and the others He called to follow him? They were able to learn from the Rabbi who had all the answers. They were tested beyond everything they ever imagined and so would you and I be tested when we chose to live with Jesus. They made mistakes and were rebuked and so would we. No one ever gets it right all the time.
Friends, the question in our hearts today is the same question the disciples had in their hearts. How could Jesus make anyone’s like better by having his own like end? It just doesn’t sound right to our ears.
But Jesus was always doing things in the opposite way from the world. And he still does.
Who does he invite to be members of his body, perfect people? I don’t think so. There aren’t any perfect people. We all have flaws. We all make mistakes. Many that we don’t want anyone to ever find out about. But still Jesus calls us to drop everything, all our pretenses, and come and live our lives with him.
God asked Abraham to walk before him and be blameless. Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It’s all about faith and God’s grace.
Friends, look deep into your hearts. Spend some quiet time with God during this Lenten season and pray that he will give you the faith to come and live with him. Trust in his Word and believe in his Son who has gone before us and will live within us enabling us to do much more than we can even imagine.
Jesus says, Let me lead. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Give your all to him and let him show you the Way.
If you haven’t made the commitment to live with Jesus today is as good a time as any. Ask him to come into your heart. Ask him to give you the faith you need to let him be your leader. Confess your weakness and your sins and let him carry the load. Trust in the One who has gone on before us to know the Way.
Thanks be to God for his marvelous grace. Amen.