We human beings are finite creatures. We understand time in terms of the past, the present, and the future. Jesus is challenging us to look at this division of time in a new way.
These are difficult words. They come at the end of this short passage that deals with discipleship and its demands on us. One disciple says to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go,’ but does not realize the full implications of what he has said. He does not realize that to ‘follow Jesus wherever he will go,’ means the Cross. If we are going to truly follow Jesus we must recognize that we too will inevitably have our crosses to bear. And we must bear them with the same humility and love that Jesus did.
Another disciple, when he is told, ‘Follow me,’ responds by saying, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’ To which Jesus responds, ‘Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.’ A third disciple says, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.’ Each one of these statements leads us to the final remark by Jesus, ‘No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.’ What does he mean by this seemingly cryptic statement?
We human beings are finite creatures. We understand time in terms of the past, the present, and the future. Jesus is challenging us to look at this division of time in a new way. He is getting us to look at the fact that we spend too much of our time looking backwards at the past. How many times do we get caught up in the past? Have you heard others, even yourself, pointing to the supposed ‘Golden Age’ of the past when ‘things were simpler, people were more connected, more respectful,’ in an attempt to critique the chaos of the present due to its abandonment of the old traditions and mores of the past? While this may feel like a good argument, it forgets that people and human institutions back then, were just as sinful and error prone as we are today. The problem is that we get fixated on the past, at ‘what was left behind’ and we lose sight of the present and what we are to do here and now. It is too easy to neglect and to critique the present by conjuring up the presumed better times gone by. This only makes us complainers and critics. It does nothing to address, or to potentially change the flaws, or the injustices of the present. Jesus is challenging us in this passage to live in the moment, to live fully, effectively, and purposefully in the here and now.
The great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, understood this idea and used it in his book Screwtape Letters. He writes:’The humans live in time but our Enemy (Screwtape’s term for God) destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.’
Lewis has his senior devil character, Screwtape, advising the apprentice devil, Wormwood, that, ‘Our business is to get them (us) away from the eternal, and from the Present.’ Screwtape wants Wormwood to get the patient (us) to become stuck in the bemoaning of the past, ‘looking to what was left behind.’ Jesus’ challenge to us in this passage is to remain with him in the Present, to follow him now. Our sense of time is shaped and understood out of our finiteness, but God exists both outside of time and within time. Eternity, God’s time, is the eternal Present. Therefore when we focus on the present, which Screwtape rightfully perceives is, ‘that point at which time touches eternity,’ we are in the presence of God, we are meditating on him, now. We are bearing our crosses, now. We are receiving his graces, now. We are doing his will, now. This is where Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to be with him in the here and now, in this moment. When we learn to do this more and more, we will begin to see God in all things, in all others, and we will serve him fully in the now present moment. We will no longer be stuck in the past, or paralyzed with worries about the future. The past is real, but it is past. The future is not here yet and, therefore, is not real. It is in the Present that we encounter God. It is our actions done in willing and humble submission to the will of God in the present that are infused with his grace, with his mercy, with his compassion, and with his love, now. It is this union with him in the Present, the here and now, that shapes the future.
Lord, help us learn to be with you and to remain with you in the Present moment more and more. Give us the grace to learn from the past, and to forgive it, so that we can live more fully in the Present with you. Open our eyes and our ears to see and to hear you, and to know your presence in the world and in our lives in the here and now. Help us to see you in all things, especially in the faces of all whom we meet today. Help us to come to understand more deeply that, by learning to live more fully in each moment, we will realize more fully your Real Presence in our lives. We ask these things in your name, Jesus. Amen.
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