As I read this passage I was struck by how it is all about priorities. What we choose to put first in our lives becomes our priority. Priorities are so important and they shape our lives totally. They also have an impact on the lives of those around us.
‘George Mallory is the famous mountain climber who died attempting to reach the peak of Mount Everest, and may well have been the first person to reach the peak. But the pursuit of his dream took a toll on his family. In the introduction to the book Last Climb, George’s son John, who was just three years old when his father perished, speaks of both his pride at what his father achieved and sadness. He wrote “I would so much rather have known my father than to have grown up in the shadow of a legend, a hero, as some people perceive him to be.” ‘
George’s priority was achieving the goal of reaching the peak of Everest. By prioritising this above his family, he left his son to grow up without a father and he left his wife as a widow. How hard for John knowing that he had to grow up without a father because his father put his own dream before the needs of his family.
In the first story Jesus tells of the banquet, and we see the guests making poor excuses for not going. Firstly, in these times the host would have given 2 invitations – one in which these guests would have replied and accepted and the other was the invite we see in the story telling them that the feast was ready. All these guests had said yes and then backed out on their word with feeble excuses. No one would have bought land without looking at it first or bought oxen without trying them out. Also, marriage was not an abrupt decision in society at that time so would have been planned long before the initial invitation was given.
I’m guilty of coming up with feeble excuses to get out of something I should do. Just this week, I saw someone homeless on the street in Kings Lynn in the distance. I knew I should offer him food or drink but chickened out and didn’t, simply because I told myself “Well you didn’t walk past him.” What a rubbish excuse!
This story reminds us how we need to prioritise sticking to our word. If we have made a commitment, we need to be there even if we change our mind and don’t feel like it. Obviously unexpected circumstances mean that sometimes we do need to back out of commitments but generally we need to be people who stick to our word and prioritise that. In Matthew 21:28-30 Jesus tells another parable: “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’, but afterwards he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.
After telling this parable Jesus asks, “Who did the Father’s will?” Obviously it was the first son that, although he initially said no did then choose to do the right thing. Jesus points out that God values action not just lip service. He doesn’t want us to be all talk and no action. James 2:14 says “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” Action is so important – just do it! Faith and God’s love together in our lives should cause us to want to act and step out in whatever way God calls us – but all out of love.
Jesus also tells the story of the banquet to show God’s heart for telling people about Him. There is a sense of urgency as the host sends out his servants to find people and bring them into the banquet. And this is a picture of Heaven. God wants us to have the same urgency and priority to speak to people about Jesus. This is certainly a very challenging story for me! God doesn’t want anyone to be lost so has commissioned all of us to speak to others. It’s not just a job for evangelists!
Then we move on to verse 26. At first read it seems very harsh and contradictory to what Jesus says elsewhere in the Bible. Jesus is using hyperbole (to exaggerate for emphasis) to make His point about prioritising God above all things. The CEV Bible puts it like this: ‘You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life.’
This reveals Jesus’ heart behind what He was saying. He did not literally mean we should hate our families. In many places in the Bible, it tells us to love our father and mother (see Deuteronomy 5:15) and to love our neighbour (see Matthew 22:39). Jesus wants us to get our priorities right at the start and then to allow other things to fill the rest of our time. Jesus is telling us to prioritise God and our relationship with Him. In Matthew 22:37-40 we see:
‘And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”‘
Jesus reminds us to love God first and then to love our neighbour. He shows both are important but puts loving God above all else. When we put God first and prioritise our relationship with Him, we are then able to love others and to do the other things God calls us to. We need to build and grow a strong, intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father in order to live out what He calls us to.
1 John 4:20 says: ‘If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.’ Truly knowing God’s love for us through an intimate relationship with Him, enables us to show His love to those God puts around us in our families, neighbourhoods, workplaces, friendship circles, communities etc.
Jesus finishes off this passage using salt as an illustration. We use salt to season food but if it no longer has flavour, what good is there to adding it in? This highlights how our priorities need to be God first. If we focus on God first, we will never lose our saltiness and we will be equipped for all the other things God has for us to do. If we focus on family, church, ministry, our jobs etc. first we will burn out because we will be striving in our own strength rather than a strength where God promises that we can “do all things through him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:13) God first then other things.
We also need to be careful with how we spend our time, talents and resources. God really challenged me on this with Facebook. I could easily waste an hour scrolling through facebook looking at what my friends are doing, many of whom I haven’t seen or spoken to for years. God really highlighted to me that I was wasting time and filling my mind with gossip so challenged me to keep off it (which I have managed for a couple of months so far). I use the messenger to keep in contact with people who really are friends and no longer waste time like I was. It’s worth asking God to highlight any areas of your life where your priorities need to change because they are actually distracting you from Him. There is a whole range of things that want to take our attention and focus. If we are not careful, these things can pull us away from God and eventually cause us to lose our saltiness.
So, what are your priorities? Where might God be asking you to change your priorities?
Spend some time with Him today and see what He reveals to you.
Lord, please help us to not get overwhelmed and distracted by things in life but to always come to you first as our priority. As we seek you, may we grow in a more and more intimate relationship with you. Help us to hunger and thirst after you. Amen