There is nothing better than true stories of peoples’ excuses. Remember the notes our mothers wrote to excuse us from school? This is a true note sent to school: “Dear Teacher, Please excuse Suzie. She has the flu and I had her shot.” Also, there are funny extracts from insurance claim forms, like these: “I had been shopping for plants all day and was on my way home. As I reached an intersection a hedge sprang up obscuring my vision and I did not see the other car.” How about this one? “An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.” Here is my all time favorite~ “I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.”
Excuses. Jesus does not want excuses. He wants disciples.
Elisha is the first to express an excuse. Since he is the provider for his parents, he wants to go back and kiss them goodbye. However, when the prophet calls, the prophet calls. Elisha offends his mentor Elijah by asking for more time. The prophetic mantel deserves an immediate response, not an excuse.
On his way to Jerusalem to carry the cross, Jesus calls people to follow him as disciples. One responds piously. The person has no idea that Jesus is an itinerant preacher, i.e., if no one invites him to a meal that day, Jesus goes hungry and sleeps out in the open. The others have excuses. They occupy themselves with family business affairs instead of the kingdom of God.
This may seem harsh but what blocks us from walking with Christ is we think that we are the center of the world. Jesus tells us that family is not more important than walking with him on the road to proclaim the kingdom. And, the problem is, we know the loopholes!
When the Samaritans refuse hospitality to the Lord and his disciples, James and John want to call down fire on them. Every so many years I like to remind us that James and John are a lot like our modern day Lucy in Peanuts. One day, Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she would make a good evangelist. “And why do you think that?” Charlie Brown asks. “Well,” responds Lucy, “I convinced the boy who sits behind me in school that my religion is better than his religion.” Now, Charlie Brown really wants to know more. “How did you do that?” To which Lucy quickly adds, “I hit him over the head with my lunch box.” Jesus rebukes James and John for thinking that Samaritans deserve God’s wrath. The word Luke uses for rebuke means “to exorcise a demon.” Jesus turns to them and exorcises their frames of mind. Consuming anyone with heavenly fire or even knocking a person over the head with a lunchbox is reserved for God alone, if God ever intends those things to happen anyway.
I bet that there are a lot of “Christians” who would love to hit people over their heads with their lunch boxes. We think we walk with Christ but when we boast of building a wall to keep out the Mexicans, we need an exorcism. We think we walk with Christ but when we complain about the Muslim woman at the check out counter who wears a headscarf, we need an exorcism. We think we walk with Christ but when we condemn people because of the color of their skin or their sexuality we need an exorcism. In the words of St. Paul, Christ brings us liberty not the law of the flesh.
Love brought us here today without us knowing it. And love keeps us coming back. Here at the Eucharist God loves us unconditionally. All is forgiven. All is let go. So, no more excuses. Jesus wants disciples.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.