Reference: Luke 9:57-62
One of the exercises in management training workshops is to give the trainee a task, then bombard him or her with a blizzard of memos to deal with, some of utmost importance, some minor and almost irrelevant, but usually simple to achieve. The point is for the student to learn how to stay on focus and be able to prioritize the important tasks from the less crucial. It is common for a manager, when faced with an important, difficult task along with an easy, simple task of minor importance, to leap to do the latter. It is similar to the story of the man who searched for his lost wallet under the streetlamp, although he lost it in the alley, because it was so much easier to look under the streetlamp.
Having a focus to your life, and being able to stay on course in line with that focus, is a gift that not everyone uses well. The temptation is to become distracted by the myriad of details which constantly appear. Your life is intended by your Creator to be a pilgrimage for you. But many lives, even long ones, are simply wandering rambles responding to details and going nowhere in particular. Jesus addresses this in the encounters reported in Luke 9, as referenced above. One in particular seems almost cruel. A man wants to follow Jesus, but he must bury his father first. Most of us would place a high priority on our father’s funeral. But it is made clear by Jesus: to follow Jesus is always the first priority, there are no exceptions. “Seek his [the Father’s] kingdom and these things [=clothes, food and drink, stuff in other words] will be given to you as well,” says Jesus (Luke 12:31).
If the definition of Christian is one who has given absolute and continuous priority to following Jesus, one wonders how many Christians there would be. We know there are some, because the number of Christian martyrs in this century is already higher than in most previous ones, and you cannot be more committed than to give your life. Most Christians, though, seem content to add their religious faith to the inventory of who they are, and to donate a percentage of time and money to the cause. Most churches urge that to be the tithe, 10%, and many are surprised if they actually convince people to come up with a full tithe. Contrast that with my friend Humphrey Peters, Bishop of Peshawar in Pakistan. Four years ago, the cathedral was attacked at Easter, some 70 or so worshipers were killed and as many more injured. Yet every Easter morning, the congregation, with their bishop, continues its practice of processing through the streets, led by the cross and with banners flying, singing loudly the triumphal songs of Easter. Their priority is clear, as they risk their lives to celebrate their Lord, and praise and proclaim him for his Resurrection.
That many see Christianity as something worn as an accessory to western civilization or as the icing on a decent life leaves us with the category of “pseudo-Christian.” But the real thing is in the whole idea of the earth as the Lord’s. If the point of our creation as humans is to serve as stewards to implement God’s will for his earth, that means we are completely his creatures existing for his priorities. It is expressed in the “Eucharistic process,” where we steward for God all week and offer the fruits of our stewardship every Sunday, using the creations of bread and wine as representations of that. We receive in return his presence integrated into us to make the efforts of the next week in best possible harmony with his priorities. This involves many details and uses many things, but all of them serve the priority. This is the point of Jesus in Luke 9 for your life.
It also impacts the life of the Church, the Body of Christ, the living presence of Christ in the world, expressed by the community of the Christian faithful. This Church/Body/community has one priority: to praise and proclaim the Lord. We are all invited to the banquet where this feast will be. No purchase is more important, no personal event such as a marriage or funeral more of a priority (see Luke 14:16-20).
Nor is any cause more important. We have succeeded in this when the average American, if asked what Christians are about, tells you that their message is that Jesus Christ has died and risen from the dead so that we, who are hopeless sinners, may be saved. If, as I suspect more likely, that average American tells you the church’s message is that you ought to be a better person, we have failed to follow Jesus. The mission drift into a society for moral betterment, one way or another, has been passionate about different issues over several centuries. But whatever the issue and regardless of how commendable the proposed behavior modification would be, it is a perversion of the Christian message.
Thus, the prohibition of alcohol a century ago was seen by many Christians as a great victory for the faith. Instead, it was a great distraction from the faith. Currently, the Pro-Life movement seeks the prohibition of abortion as a great Christian victory. But the life which Jesus offers us is comprehensive. He calls for us to care for all people in all aspects of their life, not simply the first nine months and perhaps the last few months. We are asked to give the totality of our lives in positive witness to his saving love, not to obsess on legislative restrictions regarding only one category of people. If we seek first the priority of the Gospel, following our Lord whose grace and forgiveness saves us all, you might be surprised how much the rest falls into place, and thunderings of prohibiting others will not be even necessary. If they are, revisit the priority of Jesus, for yourself and for them.
Jesus had one priority to proclaim: follow me. The Church would do well to do likewise, with the same sole priority of the compelling love which calls us to follow Jesus. You too would do well to sort your priorities until following Jesus is what matters.