Edel McClean offers these reflections:
Readings: Amos 2; Matthew 8: 18-22
I’m perplexed by today’s gospel reading. I don’t want this to be my Jesus speaking. I want to catch a softness in his eye. I want him to smile. I want him to be a wee bit easier on people. But Jesus isn’t going to do my bidding. I have to grapple with my confusion instead.
Let’s picture the scene. Jesus, a strangely attractive young rabbi, emerges out of the back end of nowhere. He wanders the hills and valleys of Palestine. He walks among a disenfranchised people, in an occupied state. He walks through their towns and their villages, over their farmland, and on the shores of their lake, and he cries out a new message. A message of a new world order, where the mourning are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, those hungry and thirsty for what’s right feast until satisfied. He doesn’t just talk. He puts it into action. He lays hands on people and they are healed. He looks, smiling, into the eyes of a leper and says ‘Of course I want to cure you, be cured’. With a word from this man’s lips, the sick are made well. The air that surrounds him is so packed full of promise of a better life and a better world, that it seems to be exploding in bursts of golden fireworks over his head.
What’s not to love? The crowds, and the excitement, the acclaim, the glamour, the power. Surely following so talented a preacher and healer holds at least the potential of wealth and health and fame and long life. How attractive to run up and throw yourself at this man’s feet and ask to go with him.
He doesn’t ask anything of the pair we hear about in the gospel. There’s no hint of him demanding that they follow. He’s been among them, healed, preached, given his heart, his time, his love, given generously and richly. He’s told them of the Kingdom. They can believe, they can live the Kingdom message, they don’t need to leave their lives and come with him. But they ask to.
I’m not sure what he offers in response is a rebuke. It seems, instead, to be a simple statement of fact. Jesus seems to want them to be absolutely clear about what it is that’s on offer.
He doesn’t offer health, wealth. Fame. A long life. All things that, on first glance, this charismatic, popular, healing preacher might be expected to offer. There’s no guarantee of health or illness, of wealth or poverty, or fame or disgrace, a long life or a short one. That’s not what they, or we, are being asked to choose. He’s not offering any guarantee of an exciting life or a dull one, an easy life or even a hard one. He’s simply saying that it won’t always look like this.
‘Don’t fall in love with the large crowds and the status and the adulation’ he seems to be saying ‘those things will disappear. I can’t guarantee you a secure home. I can’t guarantee you the security of family acceptance. I can’t offer you an honoured place in the synagogue’. This man with no home. This man so committed to the ‘fierce urgency of now’, so committed to love, that he throws himself on the mercy of our humanity. He stands there, with one foot in the boat, heading off into the unknown. He stands there in all his vulnerability. He stands there with arms spread out saying something like: ‘What do I offer you? Myself, and that’s as good as it gets. My Self is as good as it gets. Here I am. Here’s what’s on offer. Do you still want to come?’