Faith brings benefits — but nothing worthwhile having comes cost-free

A expressionist style painting with broad colourful brush strokes show a depiction of Jesus Christ surrounded by the Apostles.
Credit: Ben Sutherland, Flickr (CC BY 2.0) Art: "Christ and the Apostles" by Georges Rouault

A reflection on Luke 13:31-35.

You’d think Jesus would be feeling at the top of his game.

Crowds are coming out to hear him every day of the week. The halt and the lame are waiting in line just for a chance to get near him. This chapter of Luke is peppered with parables and healings and teachings about the Kingdom of God. Every detail is breathlessly exciting.

And then some friends come — Pharisees, no less — with bad news. All the excitement is drawing the attention of the authorities. Herod, who already beheaded John the Baptist, has heard about Jesus, and trouble is coming. The party isn’t going to last much longer. And there’s not much the crowds, or Jesus, are going to be able to do about it.

Jesus is used to debating with the Pharisees — he and they didn’t always see eye to eye on everything, but neither were they in the pocket of the authorities like the scribes in Jerusalem. I imagine they didn’t want to see a repeat of the John the Baptist debacle either. If I’d been Jesus, I’d have probably saved my skin and moved on out of Herod’s jurisdiction.

But he doesn’t. He stays. The work is too important. The message is too vital. The healings and hope are too compelling to give up. And while he knows the risks, he’s also pretty convinced that his end will come in Jerusalem, not in Galilee. He was right. And because he stays in Galilee a while longer, we hear of a whole new slew of important parables in the subsequent chapters, which we might never otherwise have heard.

I can’t help but admire that courage. It makes me wonder what I’m doing, that would be worth risking so much for. It makes me wonder what God might want from me, or from the church in our generation, that would be that important; that life-changing; that compelling. If we don’t feel that way about the message we’re trying to share with the world, or the healing that we’re trying offer, what are we missing? 

Thank God that for most of us, living a faithful life is seldom that risky. Medical personnel in war zones certainly put their lives on the line; so do fire fighters and coast guard people, and others in some professions. But all of us face costs for our discipleship. All of us need to think long and hard about what faithfulness costs. All of us need to consider how our commitment to God’s reign changes our priorities, our choices, our decisions. 

Faith brings benefits, to be sure — but nothing worthwhile having comes cost-free. If Jesus’ choices are inspiring, what changes for us, when we choose to follow his example? Where might our faith lead us, if we were willing to live with that kind of courage?

 — Stephen Fetter is the minister at Forest Hill United Church, an intercultural congregation in Toronto. He’s also the coordinator of United-in-Learning, the General Council’s online continuing education program.

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