A teacher of the law came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 8:19-20
Enthusiasm is a great thing. There’s a man on television whose job is to tell us about economic affairs – now, what could be more boring and tedious than that? But he does it with such enthusiasm that you actually find yourself listening to what he is saying.
Enthusiasm is infectious – it rubs off on other people. I had a history teacher at school who taught in the dullest and flattest tones you’ve ever heard; history lessons were one dreary yawn. No wonder my interest in history took a knock. But one of the main reasons I became a Christian in my teens was because of a couple of young men who were, to use a cliché, “on fire for Christ”. Their love for him was so great that you instinctively wanted to be like them.
Well, I do hope all of us are enthusiastic Christians. Are you?
But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) enthusiasm can also be dangerously misguided – witness the religious extremists who murder in God’s name. Even a good enthusiasm can burn out quickly, like a spectacular firework. It can be unrealistic, even a bit romantic. And that’s the case here, as Jesus encounters this teacher of the law.
In an outburst of enthusiasm, this man promises to go with Jesus to the very ends of the earth: “I will follow you wherever you go”. Now, that’s saying a lot! Can you see his eyes gleaming?
It’s interesting how Jesus replies. Perhaps better, it’s interesting how he doesn’t reply. He doesn’t say, “That’s really wonderful! Just collect your toothbrush and we’ll be on our way.” And neither does he say, “Don’t be so silly! There’s no way you’re ready for such a big step; go home and think it through properly and come and talk to me again in six months.”
No. He looks him right in the eye (or so I imagine, anyway) and pronounces, rather mysteriously: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man [that’s himself, of course] has nowhere to lay his head…”
As if to say, “Well, I’m very glad to hear what you say, but are you sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for? Are you prepared for a life on the road, a life of discomfort and hardship? Are you prepared to be worse off, in certain respects, than even the foxes and the birds? Are you prepared for the long haul? Are you prepared for the hard haul?”
I wonder what the man did? We aren’t told. But perhaps that’s the point. What became of him isn’t really what matters. What matters is what becomes of us. How do we respond to the call of Jesus?
In following Jesus, as in so many other far lesser things, what really matters is not so much how we start, but whether we carry on. Any reasonably fit person can complete a 100 metre sprint; but it’s a marathon that Jesus calls us to. It’s ultimately well worth it, let’s not be in doubt about that. But don’t let’s imagine it’s easy – not until this earthly life is over. As somebody once said, the key thing about the Christian life is to keep on keeping on.
So let me ask a question. Are you thinking about becoming a Christian? That’s great – I really hope you will. But please do so with your eyes wide open. The Jesus who calls you to follow him also calls you to take up your cross in doing so.
Another question. Are you a new convert to Jesus? Yes? Well, I hope you are enjoying that first joy of knowing the living God through faith in Jesus. But you do realise, don’t you, that there will be hard days ahead? Are you prepared for that?
Yet another question. Have you been a strong Christian many years? That’s wonderful. I trust you have many precious experiences to look back on. But don’t forget… What matters is to maintain that enthusiasm right to the very end. Don’t rest! – not until that great day comes when you see Jesus face to face.
Oh God, I wish I was more enthusiastic for Christ. Please help me, by your Spirit, to be so. Help me too to make sure that my enthusiasm is a steady shining light and not just a dazzling firework. Amen.