2. Sunday after Trinity
“Not Fit for Service” is an English phrase meaning, useless until corrected. We use it to describe a badly-built bridge, a faulty electrical cable, or a leaking roof; or those in this week’s reading from St Luke, those whose response to Jesus life-giving call to “Follow Me” was, “Yes, but not just-yet”. [Luke 9; 61] “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family” says the last of the three enthusiasts. “Yes…But……”. Let’s call them “The Y.Bs”, for short.
Let’s think about what makes someone a Y.B. type and unfit to serve Him in the Kingdom of God, unless of course, they had a complete change of heart.
It usually happens very gradually. People don’t just wake up one morning and find that they have stopped believing that God exists. Y.Bs just don’t realise what is happening to them. It’s often the result of experiences which slowly but surely undermine the foundations on which their assurance has been built. There was once a time when everything seemed ‘plain sailing’ to them, their career or business, maybe family, even perhaps their whole future life. But then, something disrupts their confidence; or probably several small things. Failing an exam; a close friend or relative dies; or a job lost; they start feeling ill; wake up feeling tired; forgetting appointments.
In Christian Terms it’s called ‘the Bump’ and it happens to people in many walks of life. None of this is the same thing as “having doubts” about the Faith. Most people are confronted during this life by some adverse experiences which shake our faith in God’s Plan for our future. The Apostles all suffered such doubts. If we never experienced any doubts, there’d be no need for Faith.
Faith doesn’t consist solely of what we profess in Church. Of course, that’s an important element of it but not the only one. The faith which St Paul taught his Converts in Corinth, meant trusting in God, that He “will never allow us to be “tested above what we are able to withstand” when he wrote, [1 Corinthians 10; 13], “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; and will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way to escape so that you can endure it.” Faith is like a well-built structure surviving earthquakes, especially when regularly inspected for faults, and continuously maintained.
Very often that way to escape that St. Paul speaks of, involves putting our trust in someone else, like a surgeon, or a fireman or a lifeguard whose judgment and support we can rely upon rather than our own. Whenever we are facing such a trials whether it’s a surgical operation, or being rescued from a fire, or drowning, or being confronted by an unexpected bereavement which has ‘knocked us sideways’ the chances are that even if they don’t know the answer, they are more likely to know someone else who does.
The Incarnate Jesus in His earthly life asked his friends and disciples in the garden of Gethsemane to support Him before his arrest. They failed of course in one unforgettable case by going to sleep; or they did nothing, did the wrong thing by getting into a fight, did it too late (or ran away).
The three people eager to be converts and followers of Jesus in the Gospel, who professed (in no uncertain terms) their determination to follow Jesus and His Way of Salvation, immediately started ‘drawing back’, by laying down certain pre-conditions for Him to agree to, before they were willing to commit themselves to the final step of actually following Him, thus avoiding the demands of total commitment.
Jesus response to these three Y.Bs is equally direct: in that case he says they were ‘useless to the Kingdom of God’. No doubt all three of them were deeply shocked and offended. They’d made their commitment; but it was valueless just as the seven Churches of Asia Minor were lukewarm in Revelation chapter 2+3 and resounded like an empty barrel; in the ears of Jesus Christ, The King and Saviour of the World!
The passage is significant as it comes just as Jesus prepares to send out 70 disciples on a mission that would have turned into a disaster if a proportion of those 70 had been “lukewarm Y.Bs”. It was a lesson too, the fledgling church of the Acts of the Apostles to whom Luke would be writing in his second book.
Fr. Francis Gardom