Scripture for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 18.1–11; Psalm 139.1–7; Philemon 1–21; Luke 14.25–33
The New Testament is full of examples of the ‘new things’ to be found in the ‘good news’ that Jesus brings. But for many people whom he encountered at the time, and for many in succeeding generations, including today’s, new things are not necessarily ‘good news.’ Sometimes gently, sometimes bluntly, Jesus confronted people with a stark challenge about their willingness to adapt, to learn, or to change – and he still does.
The prophet Jeremiah, several centuries earlier, had looked around at the people of Israel and Judah and received the imagery of a potter reshaping vessels of clay. Anyone who has worked with pottery will know that there has to be sufficient moisture and flexibility in clay for it to be reworked successfully.
Jesus found a people who were having difficulty accepting and adapting to his message – in effect their clay had become brittle and prone to fracture, and unable to be reshaped. This is not easy. Being receptive to reshaping means giving up some of our firmness, things that we hold dear – and for many, that is uncomfortable.
We cling to our individuality and our personal freedoms, often forgetting that free will is itself a gift from God. This can make the gospel a little awkward at times.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus presents a stark challenge to his followers: what is most important in their lives? Is it their relationship with God, as mediated and moderated by Jesus? Would they be willing to let go of all that distracts them from that relationship, even possessions, or their own families?
For those to whom Luke’s gospel was initially directed, this was not a hypothetical or trivial question. The consequences of membership in the early church were often divisiveness and fractured family relationships, and this could be devastating – which is why the church had to function as a de facto family for its members.
It’s all very well to note that in Hebrew the same word can mean ‘hate’ and ‘love less,’ but either way the risk of family rejection was real and possibly dangerous. Nevertheless, many followers took the plunge and followed Jesus despite the consequences.
And this challenge rings across the centuries for us, too. How willing are we, really, to put our relationship with God first? Are we willing to examine ourselves and consider what we need to relinquish to retain some of the moisture of spiritual flexibility in the clay of our lives? Can we let go of the illusion of control? Are we willing to treat the free will that we have been given with true respect – if necessary giving it back to God if it gets in the way of our relationship with God and neighbour? Can we embrace the uncertainty that comes with the divine potter’s reshaping of ourselves and our communities?
Or have we, sadly, become too dry and brittle, set in our own ways?