Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matt. 10:37-39
Not worthy? But I thought the whole message of redemption was that it was our unworthiness that requires rescue from outside of ourselves? Now I’ve got to be worthy to follow Him? Not worthy? Is Jesus, just like the Pharisees, heaping new laws on me too? Is He putting burdens on my shoulders that I am already too weak and weary to bear? Now I have to give up stuff, and not just stuff but my own family?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matt. 11:28
Whiplash? So is Jesus speaking out of two sides of His mouth, as they say, or is there a consistency found in His own person, work, life, death and resurrection?
“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo, like the disciples, left his warm, reliable, respectable home to do a job that he hadn’t really signed up for nor really wanted to have to do. But in the end, the little hobbit who cared less about gold and swords than he did a nice cup of tea by the fire turned out to be a significant player in restoring a kingdom that had been wrongfully and wickedly taken. One can’t make too tight of a parallel between this tale and the Gospel story, and I have no intention of doing that. But what did strike me was this oxymoron that does resemble our life with Jesus. Our behavior, on the one hand, is only that of quite a little fellow in a wide world because it is God who has actually ordained it, initiated it, sustained it, guaranteed it and fulfilled it. And yet this work of ours has great and deep significance because it is why were created and we are the instruments through which He has chosen to bring His Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. So then, the opportunity is ours, but the burden is not.
But what of all the “worthy” and life losing stuff?
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? Luke 9:23-25
It was God’s affection for Adam and Eve that asked them not to attempt to be their own gods, because He knew apart from Him they could do absolutely nothing and more than that, would shrivel and die like skin cut off a life giving organ. But they didn’t believe Him, they didn’t trust Him and more than that, they trusted their own eyes more, their own reason more, their own view of the world from their own perspective more. What good could God’s kingdom be when they could build their own?
And it was God’s willful affection for His creation that initiated Adam and Eve’s restoration, called them out from their hidey hole behind the tree, removed the heavy burden of their guilt and shame and instead covered them in His righteousness as He sent them out into the world. Bilbo had no idea of the trauma that was before him in his “adventure” and would never have agreed to any of it if something stronger weren’t at work in him. And yet somehow, as he gave up his life, he gained greater life.
Gandalf looked at him. “My dear Bilbo!” he said. “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.”…Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation…I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content; and the sound of the kettle on the hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party.There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. Acts 9:33-34
He heals us and immediately puts us to work to participate in His redemptive labor and mysteriously, participating in His redemptive labor heals us. He has come that we might have life, and life in abundance, and that life is in Him. We set down artificial life to take up and live in His fullness of life. Perhaps it could be pictures as the plea to let go of the anvil while trying to stay afloat in the ocean. Lay down the misplaced object of your affection which is drowning you to be lifted up by your affectionate Father. Accordingly, Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 aren’t a bitter jab of condemnation or new law but rather a compassionate observation. If I cling to anything more than Him, no matter how good that thing appears from my perspective, I will not be worthy because my only and great worth is found in Him alone. And no goblins, dragons, wolves nor self-serving men or dwarves can diminsh that life.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Rom. 6:3-4