Does Jesus’ commitment disturb you? His expectations for disciples are harsh. They seem unreasonable. We see that in the gospel this Sunday (Lk. 9:51-62). When he told a person, “Follow me,” the man replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:59-60).
In Jewish culture, burying your parents was one of the strongest moral obligations. To disregard that was unthinkable, just as it would be today. Does Jesus’ commitment disturb you? If it does, that’s good. Then you are getting it. Jesus made people shake in their boots. At times, it was scary to be around him. As he spoke, his gaze must have been like steel. Luke opens the scene with this description of Jesus: “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” (Lk. 9:51) The text is literally, “he set his face to journey to Jerusalem.”
What did that face of steel say about Jesus’ heart? Let’s start there. Not with what he asked of others, but with what was going on inside of him. If we understand what’s going on in his heart, then we will understand what he demands of us as disciples.
Jesus lived with a singular focus on God’s will. His commitment to the Father was greater than allegiance to his family. Later, he says, “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, cannot be my disciple. No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). On the one hand, this saying is hyperbole. He doesn’t want anyone to hate family members. Yet, he is dramatic to emphasize a point.
Again, think of what was going on in Jesus’ heart when he said this. What did those demanding words tell us about his singular focus on God’s will? He would not let anything get in the way of his relationship with the Father. You could see it in his face of steel as set off for Jerusalem. To look toward Jerusalem was to face the crucifixion.
His one goal in life was to be faithful to the Father. Everything else was secondary – his relationship with friends or family, even his mother. Jesus lived with total commitment and a singular focus on God’s will.
I want to contrast that with what we see in so many people today. For example, researchers say that Millennials have commitment phobia. They fear commitment. One sign is in their reluctance to marry. In 2004, 52% of 18-29 year olds were single. In 2014, 64% of the same age group were single.
Why the phobia to commitment? Researchers list several factors. First, they want to keep their options open. Today, young people have endless options. Why settle down when you can move from one option to the next? Today young people are told that they can choose to be whoever they want to be. It’s up to them to decide. The mentality is that I can choose my own destiny, and the options are endless.
But that mindset ignores that God created me for a particular vocation. Rather than a choice that I make based on my desires, a disciple listens for the will of God, then chooses to do that one thing. We make that concrete by saying to God, “Lord, what do you want me to do? You created me, and you have a plan for me. What do you want me to do?”
Jesus had the talent and power to do anything, yet he had only one choice. The only option for him was to do the Father’s will. Jesus was zeroed in on one goal, and he challenges us to have that singular focus. Do you view yourself as having endless options in life, or a singular focus on the Father’s will?
A second reason for the fear of commitment is a lack of trust. Commitment requires trust. Surveys show that young people lack deep bonds of friendship. Many of them rely on technology for personal connection, rather than connecting person-to-person. With less of a bond, they have less trust. But commitment requires trust – not only for marriage, but for all of life’s decisions. To make a commitment we need to trust in human relationships. Even more, deep commitments require trust in GOD.
Young people often ask me, “Do you ever doubt your decision to be a priest?” I think that they are asking, “Do you ever second guess the decision to commit your life to God once and for all?”
I don’t second guess that decision. Primarily because the decision is based on a deep relationship with God. I trust the Lord. He knows what is best for me. My commitment to be a priest was made with prayer. It was made inside of a relationship with God. And it is sustained by a daily discipline of prayer, an ongoing relationship with God.
Let’s come back to Jesus. He would let nothing get in the way of his journey to Jerusalem. He had a singular focus. He was “all in.” Why? Because he had a deep relationship with the Father. He trusted that the Father knew what was best. He knew that the Father had his back.
Even as he faced the cross, he could say with the psalmist that we heard today, “My heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence because you Lord will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in your presence.” (Ps. 16)
Commitment requires trust. And Jesus lived with perfect trust in the Father that God would lead him on the “path of life” and that he would fill him with the “fullness of joy.”
Two things coincide in our world today. First, many people have a fear of commitment. Second, more and more people are less religious, or agnostic or atheist. They say that they are ‘spiritual’ not ‘religious.’ But when the rubber hits the road, they have little commitment to daily prayer. They are less rooted in a relationship with God through daily prayer. Fear of commitment and being irreligious go hand-in-hand. Without a deep relationship with God, commitment is frightening. Then I am all alone on a tumultuous sea in a troubled world. But the disciple who has a strong friendship with God is calm in commitment, even in the turmoil of life.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ said the person who prays well, falls in love with God and it decides everything. He said: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
The person who prays well, fall in love with God, and it decides everything. “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Then you will be disturbing to others…… like Jesus who disturbed people with his resolute determination to do the Father’s will.