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Read the small print

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Whenever we enter into an agreement it’s wise to be sure just what we are agreeing to. We need to carefully read the contract or carefully listen to what we are told. Jesus made no attempt to hide what it would mean to follow him. This left would-be disciples in no doubt about what to expect if they decided to be part of the group who worked alongside Jesus.

On 30th June the readings were Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20, 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-end. Here is my reflection from the noon service:

‘Make sure you read the small print’ is good advice. I’m not sure if the expression ‘small print’ has an equivalent in languages other than English so I’ll explain what it means. When there is some kind of contract or agreement between people or companies, the main information is printed clearly, large enough to be easily read. However, any details that someone would like to keep hidden are written in a very small font (ie small print) so that they are much harder to read and are more likely to be ignored. Hence the advice to read the small print as there might be some nasty surprises lurking there.

Despite the advice, I doubt if most of us read every detail in agreements of various kinds. I know when the latest set of Terms of Service for SL was issued I wanted to get in-world quickly and so ticked ‘I agree’ even though I hadn’t read everything there. The Terms of Service are rather long and detailed, but have been written for the protection of all who use SL. If someone behaves badly, such as a griefer, the ToS will allow that person to be banned from SL if they are reported for a bad enough offence to LL. Going back and reading carefully informs every resident what may or may not be done in SL and what sanctions will apply for wrong behaviour.

If I were taking on a new job, I think I would read the small print very well indeed. I would need to know what hours I was expected to work, what holidays I was entitled to, the rate of pay, what pension rights I had, what disciplinary system operated, what recourse I might have to mediation if there was some dispute. Once I signed the contract I would be saying I agreed to abide by all that was written in it and of course my employer would be agreeing to everything written in the contract also when he or she signed it. It’s good to know where we stand rather than to be unsure.

I don’t think Jesus can be accused of hiding the equivalent of small print in the agreement he made with his disciples, whether that was his close group of twelve or the many others who followed him and learnt from him. Jesus was absolutely open about what the job would entail: fishing for people; about the benefits: you will inherit eternal life, you will do greater things than I do, my Father and I will live in you; about the drawbacks: people will hate you as they have hated me, you will be arrested and imprisoned.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives some potential disciples cause to think again when they understand the full implications of their enthusiasm to follow him.

The first person mentioned seemed to have made up his mind fully. He said he would follow Jesus wherever he went. That’s what was expected of the disciples of a rabbi. They were supposed to spend all their time with the rabbi, listening, watching, imitating, recalling everything he said and exactly how he said it so that they could do the same.

Jesus explained the working conditions: ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ That could be taken on face value as demonstrating that any follower of Jesus would not expect living conditions as good as those provided for the animals and birds. Alternatively, the term ‘foxes’ could have been used of Herod (who was called ‘the fox’) and the Jewish leaders who supported him to their own benefit. ‘Birds of the air’ might have referred to the Romans whose emblem was an eagle. They too were doing well for themselves. Jesus and his disciples were not part of this cosy relationship. They were outsiders, not accepted by those in power. They could easily find themselves in trouble with the authorities. We are not told if the person who approached Jesus decided to follow him or not, but if he did he would have been absolutely sure that his life was not going to be one of comfort or safety.

A second person was actually called by Jesus to follow him rather than offering himself as a disciple. This is exactly what Jesus said to the Twelve when he gathered them: ‘Follow me’. It seems this man was prepared to follow but not yet. He asked to be first allowed to bury his father. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request. However, the man was not saying that his father had died and needed burying. In the culture of the Middle East, the expectation was and is that a son would care for his parents until they died. The man’s comment meant that he wanted to be able to stay with his father while he was alive. After that he would follow. He was trying to put loyalty to family ahead of commitment to Jesus. Jesus reiterated his invitation to the man. Once again, we don’t know what the man finally decided to do, but if he followed he knew the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God had priority over his family ties.

The third man seems to agree to follow Jesus but he first wanted to say farewell to his family. Again this seems reasonable as a request. Surely just disappearing after a wandering rabbi without saying goodbye would not be a good thing to do. However, the English translation misses some of the meaning of what the man wanted to do. He wanted to ‘take leave’ of them, which in the Middle East means asking his family for permission to go with Jesus. Of course they might have agreed to what he asked but it seems unlikely. More likely was that the family would provide a good excuse for not following Jesus. Jesus was not impressed by this lack of decisiveness. He wanted people who chose to follow and kept on in that direction, rather than looking over their shoulders to what they were leaving behind. Full commitment, nothing less, was what he was demanding.

This total commitment, regardless of discomfort, despite what society expects of us, without looking back to how things were in the past, is not something new that came with Jesus. Any contract made with God has been much the same. Abraham left his home, father and security to be a wandering nomad. God gave him a son and descendants who were blessed to be a blessing. Moses left a predictable life minding sheep and living with wife and sons and wandered in a desert for 40 years. He met with God, heard his words, shone with his glory and brought his people to freedom.

Elisha showed similar commitment when Elijah called him to follow. He killed the beast he was ploughing with, sacrificing it to God, using the wood of his plough for fuel. Yes, he said goodbye to his family but that was not an excuse for delay. He had burnt his means of making a livelihood as a sign of his commitment to following Elijah. As a result he inherited the power of Elijah when God took Elijah in a chariot of fire up to heaven.

I hope when you signed up to be a Christian, or when you do in the future if you haven’t already, that you read the contract carefully – all sizes of print – to be clear what the job is and what to expect in terms of pay and conditions. Don’t forget to note the benefits also: followers of Jesus are no longer slaves but free, freed from the demands of the law. We are led by the Spirit and the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are being grown in our lives.

Helene Milena – Lay Pastor

Author: Helene Milena

Lay Pastor of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life. Teacher, counsellor, wife, mother and grandmother.

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