Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Will Follow You, Lord, Wherever You Go!

First Reading
Nehemiah 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart."

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"

The king said to me, "What is it you want?"

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it."

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, "How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?" It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

I also said to him, "If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?" And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.


In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah, his brother Hanani had come from Judah to visit him in Persia, where he was an important official in the service of the King. Hanani told him about the Jews who had escaped the slaughter by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and were living in Judah, where they suffered much trouble and shame. The walls of the city of David were now reduced to heaps of rubble, and the gates of the city had been burned to ashes.

In today’s First Reading we read that after Nehemiah heard the bad news from Judah, he prayed. He asked God to help him so that he could say the right thing to the king. Four months later he had his opportunity. He did not waste the four months. He continued to pray. In the end, he felt confident about what God wanted him to say.

Nehemiah’s face was sad when he served the wine to the king. He had not been sad before when he was with the king. In those days servants had to be happy when they were with the king (Esther 4:2).

But Nehemiah was sad that day. And the king could see that Nehemiah was sad. The king might have been very angry and Nehemiah was afraid. But God was in control and so the king was kind to Nehemiah. The king asked Nehemiah why he was sad. So Nehemiah told the king the bad news about Jerusalem.

Nehemiah chose his words carefully. It seems that he did not actually name Jerusalem. In the past, the king had been worried about Jerusalem (Ezra 4:19). At that time, the king did not want the Jews to rebuild the city. So Nehemiah simply spoke about the city where his ancestors were buried. He mentioned their graves for another reason too. Often, people believe that they should take great care of graves, because of their religion. Nehemiah hoped that the king would feel sympathy for him.

The king asked Nehemiah what he wanted. This was Nehemiah’s opportunity, so he prayed. But he only had a moment to pray this prayer. Then Nehemiah told the king what he (Nehemiah) wanted to do. He asked the king to send him to Judah so that he could build the city again. Nehemiah was very bold to say this. But he believed that God had heard his prayers. So he was confident.

Nehemiah was an important servant to the king. Now Nehemiah was asking the king to send him to Judah. The journey from Persia to Judah on foot would take four months, so Nehemiah would be away from the king for a long time. He also was asking the king to change his decision about Jerusalem. Earlier the king had stopped the people who wanted to build the city again (Ezra 4:21). On the other hand, Nehemiah was also asking the king to send him away from his comfortable life in Persia. He would have to make a long hard journey. Then he would have to work hard to build Jerusalem again. This is why he asked the king to allow him to go there.

The king knew that Nehemiah was a good and loyal servant. The king and queen would have liked Nehemiah to remain in the palace. But God wanted Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem. So the king asked Nehemiah how long he would be away from the palace. Nehemiah worked out how long the journey would take.

Nehemiah was confident that it was God’s will for him to go to Judah. So Nehemiah became even bolder. He asked the king for more help. He wanted the king to protect him as he travelled on his four month long journey. He asked the king for wood for the city gates. Nehemiah already knew what he needed to do. So he was able to explain all the details to the king. God was looking after Nehemiah. So the king gave to Nehemiah what he asked for.

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Luke 9:57-62

As Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road, a man said to him, "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 no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."


The first man was eager to follow Jesus; but he had not thought about the kind of life a follower of Jesus would be leading. Jesus describes the lifestyle of his disciples in word pictures: foxes have foxholes, birds have bird nests, but the Son of Man and his followers have no place to lay their heads. The man is not mentioned again – he must have walked away.

The second man wanted to wait, rather than to follow Jesus at once. It is unlikely that his father had just died, and he wanted to wait until after the funeral. Rather, he wanted to stay at home with his father until the older man passed from this world to the next. Jesus answered that when he called someone to follow him, there should be no delay. There are other people who have not been called to be disciples that can take care of burying the dead, while those who have been called bring the message of God’s kingdom to the four corners of the world.

Finally, there is the man who wishes to follow Jesus, but first wants to go and bid farewell to his family at home. It would seem that this inquirer is not from the city, but from the countryside, since Jesus speaks about a farmer who is plowing in his field. If he keeps his eyes straight ahead, the furrow will be straight. The message is that someone who keeps looking back at his former life is not ready to be a disciple, because, like the plowman whose eyes wander, he is not focused on the mission at hand.

Jesus spoke honestly about the cost of discipleship. He did not try to hide, or even to minimize the difficulties. Someone who has made a decision to follow Jesus must strive to be completely loyal to this commitment. Bearing witness to the truth is more important than other responsibilities. This sometimes includes tending the fields and tending the family. On the other hand, Jesus makes it clear elsewhere that the Commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother” maintains a high priority (see Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13).

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