Like Nehemiah, we are all called to rebuild the house of the Lord, or in the words of Jesus, we are called to be His disciples of the Kingdom.  The call to build the House of God is urgent, whether it was during the time of the prophet Nehemiah, or that of His disciples today.  Indeed, we read of the pathetic condition of the Temple. The walls were in ruins, leading to frequent attacks from invaders.  The great prophecies of Ezekiel, Second Isaiah and Zechariah about the restoration of the Temple and Jerusalem were fast becoming pure illusion. Jesus too, faced great challenges in proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and was very much aware of the challenges of missionary work, being an itinerant preacher Himself.

The Church today is not much different.  In fact, we are under the onslaught, not so much from armies with weapons, but from enemies who are equally hostile to the Church, particularly secularists who oppose the teachings and values of the gospel.  From within, we experience the weaknesses of both the religious leaders and members that have resulted in scandals and failures.  Living in an individualistic culture that is also materialistic and secularist, it is difficult to preserve one’s faith in the world.  All these attacks from within and without have made the Church lose credibility in the proclamation of the gospel.  Thus, the call to rebuild the Church by having faithful and committed disciples is even more urgent than ever.  But what is required for the disciples or the would-be disciples of Jesus to live the Kingdom life?  Three kinds of responses are identified today as being incompatible in realizing the Kingdom in our lives.

Firstly, the response to discipleship cannot be a mere emotional response.  That was what happened to the man who wanted to follow Jesus.  He told Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus restrained him saying, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, discipleship is not for the weak and for those who are not ready to make sacrifices.  This is a clear warning for those who have converted to the Faith, or joined priestly or religious life because of some spiritual euphoria that they have experienced.  Whilst such religious experiences can be the beginning of a conversion experience or a call, yet we need time to sort out the demands of discipleship.  For the fact is that emotions and feelings do not last; only commitment lasts.  Feelings come and go.  No one is high in love always, but what is left are the daily struggles that come from living out our commitment to God and to His people.  Consequently, such people easily get disillusioned and discouraged when they are confronted with the harsh realities of Christian living and their own inner struggles. Discipleship cannot be dependent on some feelings of love but a real commitment to live the truth in love and to love in truth.  All other motives will not carry us very far.

Secondly, in the face of the offer of the Kingdom, either because of other distractions or because of the exacting demands that come from the acceptance of the gospel, many of us would want to postpone our commitment.  Like the second man in the gospel, we seek to delay our response to the invitation, saying, “let me bury my father first.”   To bury one’s father means to wait until we have fulfilled all our filial duties, which might take years.  Of course, the commandment requires that we honour our parents. However, to allow human beings to obstruct us from answering the call of God is but another form of idolatry.

We must, therefore, in the mind of Jesus, learn to rely not on human calculation but rest on heroic faith in the Lord.  We must make a decision to live the life of the Kingdom, the kingdom of love and service.  Conversion to the Kingdom life and a life of discipleship is not to be postponed indefinitely but requires an immediate decision.  This is true with regard to our desire to change our lives.  We pay lip service, consoling ourselves that we will one day live an authentic Christian life.  But in reality we keep procrastinating, whether it is a question of deepening our prayer life or living a life of integrity.  Unless we make the decision to change now, to be happy now, to live now, then we will never find the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is already here; not a future event that is yet to come.  As for the future, things will somehow look after themselves.  We need to trust in providence.  Right now, we need only to surrender our lives in trust and faith.

The third inadequate response that we can give to Jesus is that of a divided commitment.  Like the man who wanted to follow Jesus, but on condition that he be allowed to take leave of his people at home first.  He said, “I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.”  This person has the intention to follow Jesus but his heart is torn between giving himself to the work of the Kingdom and to his loved ones.  He has a problem of attachment.  He cannot let go entirely.  And among all our attachments in life, which include things, glory, power, fame, viewpoints, the greatest attachment is to people whom we love.  It takes tremendous sacrifice to give up the people whom we love so much because that relationship prevents us from living a life of purity and truth.  This is particularly true when it comes to giving up an irregular relationship and physical intimacy with a person whom we love so much.  Indeed, there are many who want to serve the Lord and yet unable to let go of such improper relationships because whilst loving Jesus, they also desire human love and affection. Quite often, our past will prevent us from being fully open to the love of God that is coming to us in the present.  The tragedy of attachment is that our hearts become un-free for other things in life, and most of all, for the love and service of God and His people.

Attachments prevent a person from being open to others and whatever is coming into his life.  That is why Jesus makes it clear that the man who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is not fit to live in the kingdom of God.  When attachments rule our hearts, we are not free for God’s offer of life and love.  It is a situation or ‘either or’.  There is no question of having our attachments and the joy of the Kingdom at the same time.  Our commitment to the Kingdom must be a single-minded commitment, which is possible only in total detachment.  Only then can we live in the Kingdom, which is to live for the moment now, totally and fully.  But having recognized this truth, it is not easy.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  The sacrifice of giving up human love for God’s love is perhaps the greatest of all sacrifices, especially if the person whom you are giving up is the dearest love and gem in your life.

Yes, the invitation to live the Kingdom life is urgent.  And not only urgent, it requires our total commitment.  Anything less will not do.  To delay a minute longer would simply mean to delay our happiness a minute longer.  But the moment we decide to live in the present and give our whole heart to the present, then we will begin to live the Kingdom which is a kingdom of love, joy and peace.  Living in our past and in the future cannot ever bring about happiness.  Living in our attachments simply means that God’s love cannot rule our lives. To be His disciples simply means that we live the Kingdom life of love and service in total trust in the Father.

So how can we muster the strength to do what we have to do and make a decisive decision now?  We must ask for the grace to love God and His people more than we love ourselves.  Truly, to follow the Lord and work in His kingdom demands a magnanimous heart like Jesus who emptied Himself of the glory of His divinity to become one of us to serve us unto death.  Unless we have a higher love, we will not be able to give up a lower form of love.  The decision to give up our own happiness for the greater good of others demands total selflessness and self-denial.  Only a deep love for God can enable us to sacrifice our own personal needs and interests for the sake of His people.

In our dilemma to answer the call of God to give up ourselves for His sake and the people God loves, we can only rely on grace alone.  Human effort and human will alone, will break our hearts and can even lead to repression of our human needs for affection and love.  This will only make us un-loveable and even bitter against God because we made a reluctant sacrifice.  So what else can we do except to learn from Nehemiah, to surrender our emotions to the Lord in humble and earnest prayer?  Let us ask God for the grace to see the urgency and the great joy of the Kingdom, and be convinced that we can have it now.  Let us plead for a foretaste of the joy and freedom of serving Him and His people so that we will not become discouraged in the face of sacrifices and trials ahead of us.  Finally, we pray for the grace to say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”