Dr. Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist. From 1942 to 1945, he was imprisoned in four Nazi concentration camps. He spent the time caring for fellow inmates. In 1945 he and a colleague decided to escape. One of the dying men sensed Frankl’s nervousness and asked whether he was leaving. As he talked with the man, Frankl had a growing sense that he was betraying his patients, so he decided to stay. He told his colleague he was staying and at once was overwhelmed with peace.
Dr. Frankl survived the war and later wrote about the importance of meaning and commitment. Those who survived the atrocities best, he said, were those who had something to live for.
The Gospel of Luke shows what many scholars believe is a turning point in Jesus’ life. After performing miracles and teaching in Galilee for the first part of his public ministry (4:14—9:50), Jesus makes a decision—a commitment—to turn his face toward Jerusalem (9:51), where he will eventually be crucified. From that moment, he demonstrates the same inner peace Victor Frankl felt many years later when he committed to staying with his patients. Luke’s Gospel mentions little of miracles, instead sharing strong parables that challenge people to change their attitudes and their hearts.
Jesus immediately runs into difficulties as a result of his decision. In Luke 9:51–53, the Samaritan people “would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem,” the land of their enemies.
Next, three disciples commit to following him. Luke 9:57–62 tells us that Jesus warned the first, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
The second asked to fulfill his family duty to bury his father, but Jesus answered harshly, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
The third said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has put his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
The apostles and disciples who had been following Jesus must have sensed that things were changing. With the starkness characteristic of the gospels, Jesus is saying that a decision to follow him will cost a lot, but this cost earns the kingdom. Jesus himself pays the cost and for that reason has the authority to ask us to follow him.
As clear as this message was, it must have nevertheless unsettled some people.
The gospel is not meant to be comfortable. The life of a committed Christian was never intended to be nice and safe. Jesus was on the cutting edge, proclaiming a kingdom where things would be very different than what people were used to. He called disciples who were deeply committed to the kingdom and willing to pay the price—the bill—to acquire it.
As it was for the disciples of Jesus, so it is with us. When we go to that deep place within ourselves where we store our values, we may discover that we’ve placed the kingdom of God with those other decisions and determinations we hold to be important. Perhaps we haven’t examined our choice and commitment for a while. Perhaps we’ve taken it for granted. Perhaps it needs to be dusted off and brought out into the light. But it’s there, and we know it’s important.
On further reflection, we realize that at some time or another we’ll be called on to pay the price. There will be a moment—perhaps even a series of moments—when we come face to face with choices, decisions, and actions that conflict with the kingdom of God. At that moment, the bill comes due.
The inclination for people with scrupulosity is to quickly conclude that sin has everything to do with paying the bill that has come due. We spend so much time thinking of the punishment we imagine we must endure because of sin. Although sin has something to do with who we are, it’s really a very minor part of who we are.
So much more makes up a human being. So much more comes into play when we make choices and decisions. To emphasize only sin, or to become too preoccupied with sin, denies us the richness of the experience of grace. It narrows our vision and makes it impossible for us to see the power of God at work in our lives.
For Dr. Frankl, who was Jewish, the bill came due when he looked into the face of his suffering patients. When the bill comes due for us (if it hasn’t already), we’ll know and understand what Jesus has challenged us to be.
Pray for the grace and courage to accept the challenge and pay the price when your bill comes due.