Leading Jean, Following Jesus
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first, let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said to him, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
When was the last time you “set your face toward” something? It’s not a phrase we use or think of these days, but it still has some meaning for us. I think about an athlete getting ready to compete – the focus of a swimmer before climbing onto the blocks, the boxer before entering the ring, the team huddled in the locker room before they take the field. I think about a dancer or a singer or a performer of any kind ready to take the stage before the big show. You get the idea.
On Wednesday, I had just visited Ben Rice at St. Vincent’s Heart Hospital and left with my face set toward Sam’s Club. (It’s all relative, right?) My face was set toward Sam’s Club because Cross of Grace was running out of toilet paper and paper towels and the Camp at Church kids needed snacks, STAT, for the last two days of camp. And I was kind of in a hurry, because my face was also set toward getting my deck stained that afternoon, during a rare window of rainless days in Indiana. And all of that had to happen before a five o’clock meeting and the usual gamut of evening activities for the brothers Havel.
So, as I was pulling out of the parking lot at the Heart Hospital, with my face set toward Sam’s Club and all the rest, a panicked, frantically crying African-American woman drives by and, yelling from behind both of our mostly-closed car windows, asks if I can help her. Caught very much off-guard, I tell her to park her car. I pull over and park mine. And I run over to talk to her.
She’s lost and late for her first day of work. Assuming I know my way around that neck of the woods – which I do not – she asks if I can help her find 1183 Hamilton Crossing Boulevard. My trusty GPS tell us she’s just 6 minutes away so she asks me – visibly shaking she’s so upset – “Can I follow you there?”
So, even though my face is set toward Sam’s Club, I agree to lead her – which is no easy task – thanks to the myriad of handy-dandy traffic circles and round-abouts that are so popular with our friends in the northern suburbs.
Anyway, six minutes later, we get to what my GPS says is 1183 Hamilton Crossing Boulevard … only it’s not. I jump out to talk to my new friend, who is still frantic and panicky, and I confirm the address. We’re close, it seems, based on the signs and the numbers on and around the stacks and stacks and stacks of identical-looking office buildings on Hamilton Crossing Boulevard. She hugs me gratefully, saying she doesn’t have any money to pay me. I say, “It’s fine. Just follow me.”
And we take another lap around the area again – her behind me, dodging traffic and circling the round-abouts until we end up at that same pinpoint on my GPS for 1183 Hamilton Crossing Boulevard, only it’s still not there.
So I get out of my car – with my face still set toward Sam’s Club and the deck project and the evening meeting and the baseball games, remember – and with my phone in-hand I say, “Are you sure you have the right address? We’re looking for an eleven-hundred numbered building in an 11 THOUSAND numbered neck of the woods.” Just as I say it, she’s scrolling through her phone, apologizes – embarrassed – and says, “It’s 1-1-3-8-0 Hamilton Crossing Boulevard. I’m so sorry!”
Ultimately – and just the next parking lot over – we find where she needs to be. I lead here there. She parks, relieved. Hugs me again, and asks me what she can do to re-pay me. I hand her my card, find out her name is Jean, and tell her to send me an e-mail to let me know how her first day of work goes.
Please hear and understand that I’m making no quantitative, qualitative comparison between my drive through suburbia with Jean and Jesus’ road to Jerusalem with his disciples.
My point is that, aside from my time with Ben Rice at the Heart Hospital, I wonder if my little adventure with Jean wasn’t the most meaningful thing I accomplished on Wednesday. Sure, I made it to Sam’s Club for the toilet paper, paper towels, snacks and whatnot; I had my 5 o’clock meeting; I even got the deck stained and the boys got to where they needed to be. But the chance to help a lost person find her way to her first day of work – the chance to set aside my own plans and help a person in need – is what all the rest is all about, in the end, right?
And please hear and understand, if you think I’m bragging about my knack for faithfully following Jesus, I’ll be glad to confess my shame at losing my temper, good manners, and grace with the crew from the highway department Friday morning when we couldn’t access the church driveway. Sadly, it’s not rated PG, or I’d tell you about it here.
Anyway, I think what happened with me and Jean is a small version of what Jesus is getting at with all of this “follow me,” stuff – suggesting that we follow Jesus, even at the expense of all the other things and places and responsibilities toward which we can set our faces; set our agendas; and set our hearts’ desires, in this world.
When Jesus is approached by some would-be followers, each of them, well-intended as they could be, comes up with something they need to do first, before they get to the work of being disciples. One says he needs to first bury his father (no small fish to fry, for sure) and another says he’d first like to say goodbye to his family at home. Jesus, though, says to forget it – that there’s even more important, faithful work to be done. “Leave the rest behind and follow me, the kingdom of God is at hand,” is the gist of his invitation. The time is now. The jig is up. Let’s get on with it.
And that’s the call for us all, still. And Jesus knows this call isn’t always easy. This call isn’t always convenient. This call isn’t always going to fall in-line with every other thing we have going on in our lives.
And this is hard to hear for people who measure every investment of our time and energy and money against what its return will be for us in the end, because it’s hard to admit we make decisions about our willingness to follow Jesus in the same way.
Do we make plans to worship, on any given Sunday, with pure desire to celebrate and give thanks for the place of God’s blessings among us? If so, would we care so much about start time or style of music or the rest of our weekend’s plans when choosing whether to make it to church or not?
Do we give our offering to God sacrificially, generously, off the top, and with genuine thanksgiving for what has first been given to us? If so, would the math of figuring a tithe – a mere 10% of our income – even be necessary for disciples? Would we have need even for “commitment cards,” stewardship campaigns or spending plans?
Do we volunteer to serve through the Church or out there in the world out of a simple, sincere desire to be a blessing for others? Or do we commit most readily to what’s comfortable, easy, practical, safe, or convenient to everything else we have going on in our day-to-day lives?
There are people lost in this world in scarier, more dangerous and despairing ways than my friend Jean was on Wednesday, for sure. There are people starving – for actual food and spiritual sustenance, too. There are people dying of disease… of loneliness... of grief… of guilt. There are people suffering from war… from injustice…from bigotry…from sexism, and more. And too much of this is happening, too much of the time, because misguided followers of Jesus have lost focus and lost perspective and missed the point and forgotten what Jesus’ cross and crucifixion, death and resurrection are all about.
That’s why Jesus set his face to Jerusalem – and why we can, too. But, as Christian people on the other side of Jesus’ empty tomb, we set our faces toward Jerusalem knowing about the Cross, for sure; knowing about that suffering and that crucifixion and that sacrifice and that death – indeed having endured some of that ourselves along the way.
But we set our faces toward Jerusalem because there was a tomb there, too, and because it was empty, in the end. So, with our faces set toward Jerusalem, we are blessed with the perspective of resurrection, with the hope of new life, with the assurance of forgiveness, and with the promise of more grace than we deserve – and more work to do than can ever be done – without that same grace to inspire, to move and to lead us as we follow.