This week, Jesus and his disciples begin a journey of 85 miles and over 400 verses. At the end of chapter nine, Luke tells us that Jesus “he set his face toward Jerusalem.” He – and we who know the rest of the story – knew that that means he was on his way to his death. From Galilee to Jerusalem, it is a journey of teaching, of preparing, of correcting. It is a physical as well as a spiritual journey for Jesus and the disciples. The twelve follow him as he goes. Others join. Some leave. Along the way, he describes what it will take to join the journey of Jesus.
His first encounter on the journey is actually three encounters. The very first person they meet on this journey is ready to join the journey with both feet. “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus’ response is unambiguous. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, Jesus tells this would-be disciple, to look to nature. The foxes and birds are at the mercy of nature. Tossed by the winds and victims of the torrent and drought. But they have it lucky. They have somewhere to lay their furry or feathery heads. Not you. Not if you sign up for this journey. Jesus tells him “you will be reliant upon others to feed you, clothe you, give you a place to sleep. If you aren’t given these things, you won’t have these things.” The Son of Man began his life homeless in a stable, dependent on the hospitality of others. He would end his life in the same way.
He tells all who would follow:
• This is not a journey of self-reliance but dependence.
• This is not a journey of achieving but receiving.
• This is not a journey of “the one who dies with the most toys wins”, but a journey of giving away what we don’t actually need.
• This is not a journey of amassing wealth, but handing it over to ones who need it.
• This is not a journey of storing up treasures on earth, but about storing up treasures in heaven.
Luke does not tell us what this would-be disciple says. Does he leave everything and follow? Does he walk away saddened, like others had before?
What would we do? Would we join the journey?
Marcella was born in the year 325 in the city of Rome. She was raised in wealth and was an exemplar of exquisite beauty. She was still young when she married a wealthy aristocrat. They moved into a beautiful palace on Aventine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. She had closets full of fashionable dresses and wore the most beautiful makeup and extravagant hairstyles. If Disney was telling the story, it would have ended there, and they would have lived happily ever.
But it didn’t. Seven months after they were married, her wealthy aristocrat husband died. The suitors lined up to take his place. She was given the chance to marry any one of them and return to the storybook life. But she chose a different path on her journey.
Marcella was a pious student of the Scriptures and a follower of Jesus. She looked around her empty mansion and decided that her calling to follow Jesus meant that she was to live a different life. She told her suitors “no” and turned her palace into a monastic community for women. She sold her dresses and instead she and the sisters of her community wore plain brown dresses. The “Brown Dress Society,” as they became known, used her home to host the least of these. Rooms that once held society dinners and parties now held the most broken and oppressed of Rome. The members of the Brown Dress Society spent their time praying, singing, reading the Bible, and showing hospitality to those whom others turned away. She once said that she preferred to “store her money in the stomachs of the needy than hide it in a purse.”
Marcella had a place to lay her head, but she knew that it was not hers to own. Her hospitality amazed Roman society, and created a legacy for generations. The church declared her a saint and recognized her as one of the first Christian women to create a monastic order for the cause of following Christ. She lived into her 80’s doing what Christ had called her to do.
But the story does not end there. In 410, the Goths invaded Rome, and broke into the palace. They demanded her money, and she of course told them that she had none. They did not believe her, and beat her with cudgels, torturing this 85-year old woman to force her to give over her riches. They gave up and released her eventually, but she died soon thereafter because of her wounds. As she lived in her final days, forcibly removed from her house and suffering in a Rome overwhelmed by its enemies, she proclaimed, “now, I shall go in want of daily bread, but I shall not feel hunger since I am full of Christ.”
Marcella had counted the cost and knew what it meant to follow Jesus. She gave up everything she had to follow Jesus.
What would we do? Would we join the journey?
Ed Dobson is a contemporary example of our series question, “What would it look like if I actually tried to live like Jesus?” He asked that question and decided to do just that – for a year. Dobson was already a strong Christian and had spent most of his professional life purporting to live like Jesus. He was a pastor of a mega-church, a member of the Religious Right, and worked alongside Jerry Falwell. To many, he was a Christian’s Christian. But somewhere along the way, he came to understand that he was not fully living in the way that Jesus lived. That there was more he could do. His book is titled, The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do.
And so he did. He grew his beard out, because that’s what Jesus did. He tried to drive the speed limit, because that seemed like a Jesus-y thing to do. He immersed himself in Jewish culture, because Jesus was a Jew: He visited the synagogue, kept Sabbath, ate kosher, and wore traditional Jewish clothing under his suits.
But that was only the beginning. He began listening to the Gospels on CD, again and again and again, until they became impressed upon his heart. Every spare moment he had, he was reading or listening to the Gospels. Trying to live like Jesus. And he tried to pray like Jesus. As an evangelical Protestant, he stepped out of his comfort zone and started praying Jewish prayers, using an Orthodox prayer rope, and a Catholic rosary.
And then things started to get more intense. He began to pick up hitchhikers, give away money to panhandlers on the street, began to listen to the plight of African-Americans in this country, and to join them in their fight for justice. He even change the way that he voted for the president of the United States – all because he felt like that is what Jesus would have done. Dobson started to go to bars and drink beer (because that’s what Jesus did) and got in trouble with the religious higher-ups for doing it (just like Jesus did). He wrote of some fascinating conversations that he had with folks who he never would have talked to – and who never would have talked to him – if he didn’t have a beer in his hand in a bar. All of this began to rub some of his good Christian friends the wrong way, but he didn’t really care anymore. He began to live by another set of rules, understanding that he was a citizen of a different kingdom.
Along the way, he began to ask himself our question of the day, “What would it look like to own like Jesus?” He read the passage about John the Baptist, who preached that if you have two cloaks, give one away. And so he did. He had been gifted several tailor-made suits and he knew that he simply did not need them all. And so he walked into his closet to pick out the half that he was going to give away. And then he walked back out (he really loved those suits…they were tailor-made…they had his name stitched in the lining!) But eventually he walked back in and gave away more than half of those suits. He was beginning to change his behavior by what the Gospels said, not what the world said.
He read the passage about foxes and birds – from today’s passage – and asked what it meant to be homeless like Jesus. Should he get rid of all of his possessions? Should he walk around like a homeless person? Should he give away his home? Not ready for such a drastic change, he decided that he would spend a week relying on the generosity of others. He lived in a small gated community in Florida at the time, and so everything was inclusive and paid for by membership card. So he left his membership card at home, and rested upon the hospitality of others. And to his surprise, he never went without a meal. Others helped him out, paid for his meal, even bought him a round of golf. Of course, that was in a community where he was known. He later acknowledged that that week would be different if he were deemed as safe…if he were unknown.
But even though it was a fairly safe experiment for him, he still explained how hard it was for him to give up that control. To allow himself to become totally dependent on other people. To be at the mercy of others. But Jesus did it. For three years. And sent his disciples out to do the same. Would we be so willing to do it for a week? Three years? A lifetime?
At the end of the book, Dobson writes that he reflected on the journey of his year. He tells his friend how unbelievably hard it has been over the year, to live like Jesus would live. It was not an easy thing to do, to actually live like Jesus. His friend more or less tells him, “well, yeah!”
“That is what you should do with the teachings of Jesus. At the end of the year, you should feel that following Jesus is a very difficult and painful thing to do.”
“And,” Dobson concludes the book with these words, “he was right.”
How ready are we to do the same thing?
Where are we on the journey with Jesus?
Are we where Ed Dobson was, knowing that we need to get rid of some of the stuff in our lives, but not ready to let go?
Are we where Marcella was, technically owning stuff, but not really owning it…aware that everything we have and receive is a gift from God and should be used as such?
Are we where the disciples were, ready to leave home and family and rely on the grace of God and the hospitality of others.
Probably not. I’m not. But I am on that journey. Moving toward owning less and receiving more. Moving closer to the life that Jesus has called us to live.
I am reminded of a passage from the Lord of the Rings, when Pippin and Frodo, two of the hobbits are talking about the journey that they are beginning together. They remember the words of a fellow hobbit – Bilbo – and how he spoke of the journey that he took….
[Bilbo] used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. “You step into the Road and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
As we journey together toward the life of Jesus, know that we go with one another, that you have already received more grace and gifts than you can understand, and that you go with a Travelling Partner who will never leave your side.